Belichick juggles Patriots' injury-riddled secondary to find success

Posted: February 4, 2012 at 5:15 pm

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INDIANAPOLIS — The New England Patriots' playbook should come with a label attached: Some assembly required.

"Coach (Bill) Belichick brings guys in here that really buy into what we're trying to do; guys that are going to put pride and personal statistics aside and go out and try to do what's best for the team to have success," Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater said. "You get the right group in place and who believe in that and start to buy into it, just doing whatever it takes for the success of the team."

And in a season when the Patriots bring the first defense to a Super Bowl that surrendered at least 400 yards a game in the regular season, Belichick has done some of his best mix-and-match to get the unit through a season's worth of games.

So much so that Slater and fellow wide receiver Julian Edelman have been used as defensive backs. Cornerback Sterling Moore went from his couch after being cut by the Oakland Raiders earlier this season to the Patriots' practice squad to starting at safety for New England.

"After a game, when you feel like you've contributed to a team win, there is nothing better than that," Edelman said. "Any way that you can help the team is always awesome."

Belichick, whose roots in coaching weave back to coaching defensive backs early in his career, is considered one of the league's best talent evaluators at the position. Often, DBs he releases are quickly scooped up by other teams with the assumption that if Belichick had them on the roster, they must have something to offer.

As a result, Belichick also will take more risks at the position. He often used wide receiver Troy Brown as a defensive back during Brown's career, and Edelman and Slater are now in that role.

Because Belichick is the team's top personnel executive as well as head coach, there is nothing to prevent him from making such drastic moves quickly if he sees fit. In Edelman's case, Belichick took a former quarterback at Kent State and made him into a receiver, punt returner and kickoff returner before adding defensive back to the list in November.

Edelman took his first career snaps on defense leading up to the Patriots' Nov. 13 game against the Jets and found himself covering slot receivers just days later.

"(Edelman) is a smart, hardworking guy," Belichick said. "If you ask him to do something, he'll work really hard to get it right and try to do it. He developed a little bit as a defensive player this year."

For his part, Moore is the guy who knocked a potential game-winning touchdown out of Baltimore wide receiver Lee Evans' hands in the AFC championship game, a victory that put the Patriots in Indianapolis. Overall, it was the pile of injuries — safety Patrick Chung (foot), cornerback Devin McCourty (shoulder), cornerback Kyle Arrington (foot) — along with the release of safety James Sanders and cornerback Leigh Bodden, that forced the Patriots into cut-and-paste mode.

Belichick's defensive solution has included Broncos castoffs Nate Jones and Niko Koutivides making starts at safety and linebacker, respectively. It is something the Giants have taken note of along the way this week.

New York wide receiver Mario Manningham, asked about the prospect of facing Edelman in coverage in Sunday's title game, said:

"He plays wide receiver, he's not a real defensive back. Did he get drafted as a defensive back? We have a little bond going on knowing that we can beat somebody. We're confident. I hope he's out there."

Edelman brushed aside Manningham's statement, calling it "a bunch of noise," but the Patriots will need all of the pieces to fit together one last time this season if they are going to add another trophy to the team's case.

Jeff Legwold: 303-954-2359 or

Parts is parts

The New England Patriots have shuffled their secondary often this season. Here is who has started games this season:

Regular season

Player starts:*

CB Devin McCourty 13

CB Kyle Arrington 13

S James Ihedigbo 11

S Patrick Chung 7

S Josh Barrett 4

S Sergio Brown 4

S/CB Sterling Moore 3

WR/DB Matthew Slater 3

CB Ras-I Dowling 2

CB Antwaun Molden 2

CB Leigh Bodden 1

S Nate Jones 1

* Patriots opened two games with five defensive backs


Player starts:

CB McCourty 2

CB Arrington 2

S Chung 2

S Ihedigbo 2

Jeff Legwold, The Denver Post

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Belichick juggles Patriots' injury-riddled secondary to find success

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February 4th, 2012 at 5:15 pm

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