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Friday, 26 July 2013 05:56

New England Patriots: Second Year Players, Jump or Leap

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In the 2012 NFL draft the Patriots did something they rarely do. They traded up in the draft to select their guy. They did this twice.  The Patriots defense in 2011 was bad and an infusion of youth was needed.  Out of the seven picks that were made, six were on defense. All six defenders made the team and all but Jake Bequette made contributions.  We have heard it many of times from head coach Bill Belichick:  "The biggest jump for players is between their first and second season."  The thought behind this is they know what to expect in the pros. They have a season of on-the-job training behind them, as well as a full offseason in the teams offseason program.   These second year players are now counted on.  Many fans worried about the teams lack of offensive fire power will be looking towards the defense for answers. Here is what we can expect and hope for from each player:  Chandler Jones  Jones was the Patriots first pick last season.  He came out of the gate screaming. He had six sacks in his first eight games. Injuries slowed him for the second half of last season and the explosiveness and sacks were few and far between.  In early mock drafts, Jones was looked at as somewhat of a project. His first eight games showed he was ready for the NFL. His strip sack week one vs. the Titans that was returned for a touchdown by fellow rookie Dont'a Hightower got Patriots Nation excited.   Coming into season two fully healthy, the Patriots hope they have their cornerstone pass rusher. He needs to develop a stronger inside move to go along with his quick burst past tackles.  His production I would expect to get better and a 10-plus sack season is attainable. The hope is for Jones to develop into the solid edge pass rusher the team has been searching for.  All indications are that he had a solid off-season and is fully healed from the ankle injury that slowed him last season.    Dont'a Hightower  Hightower, the Patriots second of two first-round picks last year had an up-and-down rookie season. His final stats look good: 60 tackles, four sacks, and the aforementioned touchdown.  He was limited in pass coverage and some expected more playmaking ability. He did have a nose for the football and was solid against the run. He was injured in week four against the Bills and missed two games.  When he did come back he was productive vs. the Jets with seven tackles and a sack. He finished the season strong with 43 tackles in his last 10 games. In his second year, the Patriots might open him up to rushing the passer more with better secondary play. At worst, they are getting a solid run-stuffing two-down linebacker. Things can fold out many different ways but I expect Hightower to develop into a strong middle linebacker when Brandon Spikes' time in New England is finished.  This season I would expect second round pick Jamie Collins to be used more in sub-packages than Hightower.    Tavon Wilson  Wilson was a surprise pick by the Patriots in the second round. Many draft pundits were scratching their heads when the pick was announced.  Most Pats fans were saying "who?", as they Googled his name.  He started his career off on a positive note with a pick week one. Against Denver, he had a season high 10 tackles. He played all over the place and was in on many sub-packages to start the season. His playing time diminished greatly after the acquisition of Aqib Talib and Devin McCourty's full time move to safety. Still, Wilson ended the season with 41 tackles and four interceptions.  Not bad for the "who" guy.   Moving forward Wilson should be a solid back-up this season for McCourty and new safety Adrian Wilson. He has proven he can play in the National Football League. Expect to see him in place of Adrian Wilson on obvious passing downs. Teamed with McCourty,  that is a lot of ground that can be covered. Wilson is also a converted cornerback from his days at Illinois.    Jake Bequette Bequette basically redshirted his rookie year in the NFL. He played in only three games. He has good size for a defensive rush end at 6'5" and 265 lbs. He could be a sub-package player or Rob Ninkovich insurance.  The key word is "could". While seven tackles and a sack in the preseason last year looks nice on paper it didn't get him on the field. Still the Patriots let Trevor Scott walk and did not sign players such as Dwight Freeney or John Abraham.   Third round picks are usually given time to develop. That being said, a training camp battle between Bequette, fourth year pro Jermaine Cunningham, and rookie Michael Buchanan is brewing.  I would expect Bequette to stick and the real battle will be between Cunningham and Buchanan    Nate Ebner  Ebner was a long shot to make the roster last year.  He made it and provided very good special teams play. He will be in a dog fight with Steve Gregory and Rookie Duron Harmom for the final one or two safety spots.   Alfonzo Dennard We could write a book about Fonzie and his slip and fall and climb back up.  A few days before last years draft he punched a police officer and a once second or third round hopeful selection fell to the seventh round.  The Patriots took a gamble and were rewarded as he became the starter opposite of Talib and played well.  Things were looking up for Dennard as he received only 30 days in jail next offseason and two years probation for his infraction.  Then he was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence.  He is due back in court at the end of August to see if he violated his probation. Hopefully for his sake and the team's he is found not guilty.  Dennard, if out of trouble is a very good second year player and a steal at the position he was drafted. If he should miss anytime the team has options. They can insert Kyle Arrington into the starting line up. Third-year pro Ras-I Dowling could finally stay healthy and realize his potential. Rookie Logan Ryan could be brought along. Finally, with the safety depth McCourty could be moved back to corner.  None of these options are as appealing as having Talib and Dennard teamed together.    The other player drafted by the Patriots was wide receiver Jeremy Ebert out of Northwestern. He has since been cut.  The Patriots set out to get better and younger on defense in the 2012 NFL Draft. They looked to have hit at least one home run and hit on the others.     
Jeff Kane

Jeff Kane is the Patriots Beat Manager for CLNS Radio He is the lead host for Patriots Beat and Host of the Patriots Post Game Show. His quick-witted style and knowlege of the New England Patriots are some of his endearing qualities to CLNS listeners.

Jeff is a lifelong Boston sports fan who grew up right outside of Boston. His passion for the New England Patriots dates back to watching his first game in 1984. Jeff grew up with love for the Larry Bird led Celtics, watching games after his bedtime with his father Chuck.

A self describe football know-it-all. Jeff says his favorite sports memories are the Snow Bowl Game and attending game one of the NBA playoffs with his father in 2008.

Jeff currently resides in New Hampton, New Hampshire with his Wife Michelle and his two sons Connelly and Saygen.

Jeff can be reached by email: jkane@clnsradio.com

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