close
close

Do the Patriots tend towards a ‘positionless’ defense?

FOXBORO – Four years later, Malcolm Butler says he doesn’t see big changes in the Patriots’ defensive scheme.

Although Butler revealed after Tuesday’s OTA workout that there’s “a little tweak.”

What is Optimization?

The Patriots’ former Super Bowl hero didn’t elaborate, but a growing theory is “non-positional football.”

Slot cornerman Jonathan Jones used the term in a tweet last March, saying that this is the future of the game. But what does it mean?

“We have so much versatility,” Jones said Tuesday. “We have people who can play safety, come down and play star (slot), can play corner. We are very versatile.”

Belichick has always loved moving his defensive chess pieces, and to that end, the Patriots have some defensive backs — be it Jones, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers or Myles Bryant — who can be used in multiple spots.

Rookie corners Marcus Jones and Jack Jones can also move, whether playing in the outside corner or in the slot.

By the looks of it — not to mention the way it’s portrayed — the Patriots’ goal is to slow down high-profile attacks through their versatility; wreak some havoc on opposing quarterbacks who can’t tell which defender is on what before the snap.

The Patriots are thin at cornerback, especially those with man-coverage skills, so they’ll pull from the defensive backfield position where they’re strongest: safety.

Bill Belichick retrains offense, Mac Jones stays late and more Patriots OTA observations

“The more we can do as a defense as a whole, the better the whole system becomes,” Phillips said. “You don’t know what I do on certain tracks. They don’t know what Jon Jones or any of the other guys are doing on certain tracks. Being able to do that is great.”

Phillips, Dugger, Peppers and Devin McCourty are a formidable squad no matter where they are asked to line up. Sophomore safetyman Joshuah Bledsoe could also join the mix after essentially completing a redshirt year.

Given the lack of top corners, the Pats are likely to play more zone, and Belichick can move around staff in his secondary and confuse quarterbacks with this type of scheme more easily. There will still be some semblance of male coverage, but Belichick will stir it up to add to the ruse.

Hence the catchphrase “football without position”.

It’s a bit of a “tweak” from what Butler was used to from the group of defensemen when he started with the Patriots. During his first foray, the Pats always had a man-to-man corner to take care of one side of the field and eliminate the opposing team’s best player. When Butler was a rookie, the cornerback room played Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Revis usually took the best receiver and locked him up.

After Revis, Butler temporarily took over as lead corner until the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore to free agency. JC Jackson took over for Gilmore last season but was not re-signed as a free agent.

Now Butler has returned to the herd after a year’s hiatus. At 32, the tires have considerable tread, although Butler has kept up with all the carbs Belichick put the team through during the OTAs.

Along with Butler, the Patriots added a few more corners in the offseason with veteran Terrance Mitchell and the two rookies. Shaun Wade, acquired from the Ravens as a rookie last year, also has some versatility but remains an unknown.

Bill Belichick retrains offense, Mac Jones stays late and more Patriots OTA observations

So the Patriots are banking on a healthy dose of mystery — aka positionless football — to thwart Buffalo’s Josh Allen, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow and others.

For his part, Butler doesn’t care if the pundits didn’t express a lot of confidence in the Patriots’ cornerback room or collective defense.

(052322 Foxboro, MA): Malcolm Butler goes through a practice session with Shaun Wade during the New England Patriots OTA at the practice field of Gillette Stadium on Monday, May 23, 2022 in Foxboro, MA.  (Staff photo by Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
(052322 Foxboro, MA): Malcolm Butler goes through a practice session with Shaun Wade during the New England Patriots OTA at the practice field of Gillette Stadium on Monday, May 23, 2022 in Foxboro, MA. (Staff photo by Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

He’s aware the Patriots haven’t even forced the Bills to stab in the teams’ last two encounters and haven’t had the answers to stop Allen.

“People are always talking. Our job is to keep working,” he said. “If we put in the work and do our job and make each other better, we’ll prove it to ourselves, and we’ll also prove (the doubters) wrong.”

Butler, of course, wants to prove he didn’t lose it. After retiring last year and spending the season away from football, he feels right at home – even if the defense is a little different this time.

“If I prove it to myself, I’ll prove it to my teammates at the same time,” he said. “That’s why I work hard every day and stay focused.”

Leave a Comment