Bryant, Jason Webster and Lewis Sanders were the three veterans the Patriots looked to when they needed to replace Asante Samuel, Eugene Wilson and Randall Gay. Webster was released before Bryant, leaving a huge hole in the Patriots secondary. It was a hole the Patriots looked to O'Neal to fill.
Kevin Goheen of Jungle Insider, a former Cincinnati Enquirer beat writer covering the Bengals, shared some insight into what O'Neal brings to the table.
"He physically still has the tools to be a good corner in this league," Goheen wrote via email. "It's my belief that he never really recovered mentally from being replaced as a starter by the combo of Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall middle of last year. The Bengals wanted to go with their young No. 1 picks (Joseph '06, Hall '07) and O'Neal was pushed back."
The Bengals secondary was torched in 2007, allowing teams to pass for 230.4 yards per game (26th in the league). One signature shootout the defense allowed was a 45-51 loss to the Browns in week 2.
So why did the Bengals jettison O'Neal?
|"He wanted a new deal since '06 and the Bengals weren't going to give him one. They've been trying to get younger overall on defense and they've succeeded." -- Bengals beat writer Kevin Goheen on former Bengal DB Deltha O'Neal|
(AP Photo/Robert E. Klein)
According to Goheen, it was a youth (and money savings) move.
"I still think he was capable of being their best corner last year but he has wanted a new deal since '06 and the Bengals weren't going to give him one. They've been trying to get younger overall on defense and they've succeeded."
Considering O'Neal was part of a porous Bengals defense, which hasn't been known for solid play, why would the patriots want him? Goheen explains, one player isn't the whole problem in Cincinnati - (Patriots fans should remember Corey Dillon came from Cincy).
"[O'Neal] still can match up well with receivers -- Lord knows he's better than some of those guys Belichick has run out there with great success over the years -- and if he gets his motivation going he could have a big year. He was as good of a corner as I've ever seen in '05 when he tied for the league lead with 10 interceptions. He didn't give up a single reception of more than 20 yards all season. His interception numbers have dropped significantly the last two seasons (just 2 total) but he still tied for team lead in PD's with 16."
The interception point Goheen made is poignant with New England who lost the 16 interceptions in two seasons when Asante Samuel left. Neither Webster nor Bryant had solid 2007 seasons, so O'Neal's 52 tackles, 9 passes defended and 1 interception holds up well in comparison. Considering O'Neal started only 8 games in 2007, his numbers matchup well compared to the Bengals other corners Hall and Joseph.
So far O'Neal has taken over the starting cornerback spot vacated by Samuel. After Lewis Sanders manned the position the first week, O'Neal's solid play has shown why New England was quick to sign him (the day after releasing Bryant).
Patriots fans may wonder about the secondary, but O'Neal is one of the bright spots. Although New England was blown out by the Dolphins last Sunday, the Patriots did not give up deep pass plays off the corners. Most of Miami's success came on inside patterns where the nickel or dime defender would cover.
O'Neal looks to be the next Patriots reclamation story. Cast aside by Cincinnati, rejuvenated in New England.