Saturday, April 25, 2009

Surprise! Belichick defies expectation

You though Bill Belichick would draft a linebacker in the first round? You were wrong. You thought Belichick would draft a linebacker with one of his picks in the top half of the second round? You were wrong.

Despite the loss of Mike Vrabel and the questions surrounding the aging Tedy Bruschi, the Patriots did not use any of their first three draft picks on a linebacker. Instead, the Patriots drafted a run-stopping safety (Patrick Chung), a run-stuffing defensive tackle (Ron Brace) and a ball-hawking cornerback (Darius Butler).

Here's a quick look at all three:

* Patrick Chung, SS, Oregon (5-foot-11, 212 pounds)
Chung is just 21 years old but already being lauded for his maturity and leadership. That had to appeal to Belichick. What also had to appeal to Belichick, though, was the way Chung can hit. Chung can hit hard.

Chung redshirted as a 17-year-old at Oregon but made 51 consecutive starts over the next four seasons, recording at least 80 tackles in each of those four seasons and twice earning first-team All-Pac 10 honors. He had 19 career tackles for a loss, including four sacks, and nine interceptions in his career at Oregon.

Unlike Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders, he's more of a run-stuffing safety than a cover safety -- like Rodney Harrison, perhaps?

* Ron Brace, DT, Boston College (6-foot-3, 330 pounds)
This selection might be a sign the Patriots are losing traction in their negotiations with nose tackle Vince Wilfork. This selection also might be a chance for the Patriots to get a little leverage over Wilfork. This selection also might just be a move to build depth where the Patriots really don't have much -- right smack in the middle of their defensive line. (Mike Wright is not a natural nose tackle; the selection of Brace frees up Wright to play more end than tackle.)

Brace teamed with Green Bay Packers draftee in the middle of the seventh-best run defense in college football last season. He can fight off double-teams and free up linebackers -- exactly what he'll need to do in the Patriots' scheme. He recorded 23 of his 85 career tackles in the backfield, including 5 1/2 sacks. But tackle totals don't mean much when it comes to defensive linemen. The biggest question, really, will be this: How much did he benefit from playing alongside Raji, and how much did Raji benefit from playing alongside him?

* Darius Butler, CB, Connecticut (5-foot-10, 183 pounds)
Butler, long rumored to be an object of Belichick's affection, didn't jump in the draft the way he might have hoped -- but he can jump for the ball as well as anyone in the draft. He's got the footspeed and the hands to be a fantastic shut-down corner, and he can go up and get the ball even against taller wide receivers. Analysts question his ability to defend the run, but if he can be the next Ty Law against the pass, that's not going to matter.

In his career with the Huskies, Butler intercepted 10 passes and returned two of them for touchdowns. He even played a little wide receiver, something that had to appeal to the versatility-loving Belichick.

Oh, and his cousin is Willis McGahee, so that's fun, too.

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