Alfonzo Dennard due in court today

New England Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard is due in a Nebraska court today to hear the fate of his near future. The 2:30 PM probation hearing is for a continuance his lawyer, Alan Stoler, filed yesterday. If Dennard gets granted the continuance, the sentencing would be delayed until after the 2013 NFL season is over.

The loss of Dennard would be a huge blow, as the Patriots already have lost key members to each layer of their defense. However, if he were to miss significant time, it would not be the death knell people think it may be. Dennard is no doubt a key contributor for this defense, both this season and in the future. However, he has missed two of the past three games to injury, and rookie Logan Ryan has filled in admirably in the secondary.

One thing to consider is the remaining slate of regular season games for the Patriots. Three of the four teams they will be playing are ranked in the lower half of the league in passing offense, and the only one that is in the top half (Cleveland Browns) may be starting an undrafted rookie quarterback who was signed last week. As for the playoffs, it is impossible to say right now who New England will be matched up against. As it stands, the AFC teams that will be in the playoffs that have "elite" passing offenses only have the Denver Broncos, with the next best team being the Cincinnati Bengals (11).

The last thing to consider is that the Patriots' secondary is and still will be the strongest part of this defense, Dennard or no Dennard. Smart teams will target the porous run defense first, like the Houston Texans and Broncos did (although it ultimately failed for Denver). Another soft spot our defense has is our linebacking core, particularly in coverage. Teams with even competent tight ends should be able to use that to their advantage. So the Browns (Jordan Cameron) and Baltimore Ravens (Dennis Pitta is active this Sunday) should look to expose that. Assuming the defense is equipped with a healthy Aqib Talib, offenses would see much more success targeting these two soft spots before testing the secondary on a regular basis.

So while the Dennard legal situation obviously has major implications, the cornerback position is a position where the Patriots could afford a loss to a key contributor. If they have a healthy Talib, the "next man up" mantra Belichick recites ad nauseam is a perfect example for the emerging Logan Ryan to step up and cement his spot a regular for this defense.

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