Former All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis made his preseason debut for New England in the victory over the Eagles Friday night.
He saw a couple series of action, but there was limited play on his left side of the field. But Revis says he feels great and was ready for whatever was thrown his way.
“I don’t know what their game plan is,” Revis said. “My thing is just to go out there and do my job. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t. But you always have to be ready at all times.”
While Revis didn’t get to see many balls, he and the rest of the players on the field certainly got to see plenty of flags in the game.
The bulk of the 29 penalties were either illegal hands to the face, illegal contact or defensive holding, all areas of emphasis for the officials this summer that the players are still getting a handle on.
“It’s a new rule in 2014 that they’re emphasizing about illegal contact down the field on plays with the wide receiver and the defensive backs,” Revis said. “Like I said before, we have to do the best that we can by being comfortable with the new rules and trying to do the right things out there on the field. It was a lot, but at the same time, the refs are going to call what they see.”
Quarterback Tom Brady also was among the many Patriots seeing preseason action for the first time in the win over the Eagles. Brady played two series, completing eight of his 10 passes for 81 yards with a touchdown. He did throw an interception that was returned for a TD on a miscommunication with blocking tight end Steve Maneri, but overall it was an impressive first effort of the summer.
Brady seems to be getting more comfortable with his cast of receivers, including returning veterans Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, budding youngster Kenbrell Thompkins and free-agent addition Brandon LaFell.
“They all have some different skill sets to allow them to get open in different ways,” Brady said of the group. “We haven’t done a lot of that this year, but I think all the skill guys are going to have to play a big part of our team this year.
“It isn’t just going to be one group out there all game. Everyone who is out there is going to have to contribute. Everyone who is on the roster, who’s at the game, is going to have to contribute. So it was great to see all those guys in there all making plays. It’s just the way it needs to continue to be for us.”
The presence of Revis, beginning with his free-agent signing, was thought to give the Patriots’ new-look defense enough talent to become one of the best under coach Bill Belichick, maybe even in line with the Ty Law and Rodney Harrison-led unit that keyed a Super Bowl title in 2004.
But the secondary is still not set at strong safety.
Through the first couple weeks of training practice and preseason action the strong safety spot has been manned by Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner, Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan.
While Harmon was the presumed starter based on his work during practices and mini-camp this spring, he failed to take the opportunity and run with it. Chung was a starter at strong safety during his first tenure with New England and is probably the most physical hitter in the group. Wilson and Ebner are special teamers, while Arrington and Ryan are cornerbacks moonlighting in the middle of the field.
In Friday night’s preseason win over the Eagles at Gillette Stadium, it was Arrington getting the top reps at strong safety. In situation substitution packages, Arrington moved to the slot corner, where he played the last two seasons, and Chung came in to play safety.
According to Belichick, Arrington’s role against Philly wasn’t all that different than his traditional job.
“That inside position that Logan and Kyle played, I would say relates more to the nickel position that they play in sub defense than it does to the safety position in a regular defense against a two-receiver set,” Belichick explained.
“I’m not saying that there isn’t some application of both but because it’s a multiple receiver team, that nickel position, the slot guy, could either be on that receiver or he could be playing some type of zone coverage more like a safety. It’s against that type of personnel group that we’ve done it; a lot of other teams in the league do it too. So it’s not really nickel but it’s not really your regular defense, it’s a little bit of a hybrid there to try to match up against the multiple receivers that that offense has on the field. I think they’ve both done a good job with it.
“Logan’s played some safety for us in the past, so has Kyle. They’ve both played that position — that fourth defensive back. It’s not really anything that’s that new to them. It definitely has a lot of carryover for them from when we are in our nickel defense and they play in the slot.”
Arrington took the role, regardless of its responsibilities, in stride.
“It’s just one of those deals where (you play) wherever the coach feels confident in putting guys on the team,” Arrington said. “We have the utmost confidence in ourselves to get the job done.”
So while Revis will be expected to lift a pass defense that ranked 26th on third down a year ago, the overall level the secondary can reach as a group may depend on who plays strong safety, and how well he plays it.