While the New England Patriots offseason has been shrouded by problems on offense, the defense has been making steady improvements in the last 2 offseasons. While the Patriots went to improve the fron
t 7 with their 2 first round picks in 2012 and their first pick of the 2013 draft, the secondary has been improved in more subtle ways. So are they the group to make the difference heading into the 2013 season?

Well, I say subtle improvements. The 2012 season was one of revolution in the secondary. With the trade for Aqib Talib, the emergence of Alfonzo Dennard and the change of position for Devin McCourty, it felt like there was a change of attitude in the secondary - they got tougher, they were settled and they were starting to become a playmaking unit.

The issues were still there. Two last minute interceptions saved the Pats from humiliating defeats to the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars, two interceptions that weren't exactly brilliant clutch plays either. The Patriots also suffered if their starters left the game - Anquin Boldin was wide open throughout the AFC Championship game once Talib exited with an injury. The set up of the secondary was fine, it was slowing down the Baltimore Ravens until they had to rearrange the whole secondary, and Marquice Cole never had a chance. The key to the secondary will be keeping the tandems intact, but if they do go down, will they have the depth to cover?

The Patriots sorted their starters out for 2013 at corner by bringing back Talib to start outside with Dennard opposite, and resigning Kyle Arrington to play in the slot, where he looked a lot better towards the end of last season. But beyond this, there was no depth.

However, Ras-I Dowling is once again back from injury, and looking to show what he can do when healthy, and by a lot of accounts he is doing well in Training Camp, showing why he was listed as a starter heading into Week 1 last season. Add to the mix Rookie Logan Ryan, who will be looking to impress in order to be the main backup this season. Both Ryan and Dowling have good size for a cornerback, so he could go outside in case of emergency

At Safety, there's a three way battle to start alongside McCourty, with Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson and Steve Gregory all competing for the spot. All three bring their own strengths to the secondary, so having that variety there for sub-packages throughout the season will be key.

Adrian Wilson can be the run stuffer when needed, Gregory showed himself to be a generally solid Safety, and though we're not quite sure where Tavon's main strengths lie, he showed he can turn the ball over in his rookie year, so he'll be trying to show he can be the next starting Safety and build on his Rookie experiences. Duron Harmon, a 3rd round pick in 2013, learning from these four in his Rookie year, adding his good size to the equation, the Safeties group have to compete and show that they can stop the deep ball this season, which should hopefully lead to better performances on the field.

Another year means more time to learn, and that is vital this season. Devin McCourty switched from CB to Safety during last season, he has had a whole offseason to prepare to be a full time Safety. Talib joined midseason, he has a full offseason to learn more, with the work ethic he has shown so far this Training Camp, it looks as though he's taken advantage of his time. Add to that the rookies Dennard and Tavon Wilson, who now have survived their first year, and can look to build on it.

With all the attention on how the offense may slow down in 2013, the pass defense will certainly have to improve. With Tom Brady getting older, the secondary cannot afford to be rebuilt with high draft picks once more. This group will have to stick together for the next few years and improve game by game.

The younger guys will have to learn from Talib and Adrian Wilson, the more experienced will have to stay healthy. This group could be the difference heading into 2013. They showed that last season. With more depth and more experience in the system, there is potential for this team to be able to slow down the passing game, without having to sacrifice the run stuffing the whole defense showed last season.

Let me know your thoughts on Twitter @BrendanAnnely

Brendan Annely 7/30/2013 11:32:00 AM Edit

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