Patriots S Camp Competition: McCourty atop an aged group

Andy Hart
July 23, 2019 - 3:17 pm
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Leading up to the opening of Patriots training camp 2019, WEEI.com will take a position-by-position look at the competition for roster spots and roles this summer in New England.

Safety

Overview: There is a fine line between being considered experienced and old in the NFL. It’s a line that the Patriots are walking at safety these days for a group led by Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, each of whom turns 32 this August. The position has trusted, solid depth with Duron Harmon, but not much else in terms of youth or future potential.

Players (season #): Devin McCourty (10), Patrick Chung (11), Duron Harmon (7), Nate Ebner (8), Obi Melifonwu (3), Terrence Brooks (6), A.J. Howard (1), Malik Gant (R)

Coaching: Steve Belichick is the only returning positional coach on the Patriots staff, heading into his fourth season overseeing the safety position. A Rutgers football alum like both McCourty and Harmon, the younger Belichick has a unique relationship with his top-heavy veteran group.

Competition: McCourty and Chung have been remarkably healthy key cogs in the back end for New England despite their advancing ages. The former eschewed his own retirement thoughts this winter to return for another run, while the latter remains a guy that Bill Belichick has heaped praise upon regularly in recent years. Harmon is paid and treated like a starter despite essentially being a rotational super-sub. All three are known commodities at this point. The bottom of the safety depth chart is where the competition unfolds. Ebner is on PUP to open camp and is well entrenched as a core special teamer with only the cost of his services putting his roster spot in question. Melifonwu has an incredible combination of size and athleticism that clearly intrigues Belichick, who used him in an in-the-box role for short stints late last season and had him working alongside McCourty during spring practices with Chung (who’s returning from the broken arm suffered in the Super Bowl) out of action. Still, Melifonwu has to prove he’s more than just potential and a theoretical contributor. Brooks is a special teams newcomer with some backup ability on defense, a mix that could push him into the roster conversation.

Prediction: McCourty, Chung and Harmon are locks to make the roster and return to the same roles they’ve held for the last few seasons, including plenty of three-safety packages. After that, things get a bit more uncertain. Melifonwu will seemingly be given the chance to win a spot as a safety/linebacker hybrid, something Belichick has somewhat lusted after for years, but it will be up to the UConn alum to prove in practice and preseason action that he can take advantage of the opportunity. Ebner is a trusted core special teamer who’s again battling injury and carries a cap hit near $3 million, so he could very well be pushed by Brooks who is younger, cheaper and might offer marginally more value on defense.

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