Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

Patriots discovering virtue of versatility

FOXBOROUGH -- When it comes to switching positions for the good of the team, some players do it comfortably while others, according to Patriots coach Bill Belichick, wouldn't even be asked.

"Some players can interchange from position to position seamlessly and you would never know sometimes what their primary spot was," said Belichick, whose team had a day off from practice yesterday. "Other guys, it's harder for them to do, for whatever reason. Some guys, you ask them to go from right linebacker to left linebacker or right corner to left corner and they have a hard time."

Belichick mentioned the Troy Brown experiment at cornerback, free safety Eugene Wilson's time at corner and special teamer/linebacker Don Davis's emergency time in the defensive backfield as prime examples of his team's versatility, prompted by a rash of injuries.

Wilson was given one of the game balls for his performance last Sunday after New England's defensive domination of the Baltimore Ravens. Belichick thought Wilson made one of the game's impact plays on kickoff coverage when he corraled returner B.J. Sams, who was about to make his cut and instead was subjected to a thunderous takedown. "I thought he gave us a really big performance outside, and that was big," said Belichick. "Baltimore has a lot of big receivers and I thought he played physically with them and did a good job of tackling."

Davis alternated with Dexter Reid at safety and was on the field with the defense for about two dozen plays, a handful as linebacker in the nickel package. "When you combine that," said Belichick, "he was probably in there for half the defensive plays."

Davis had four tackles (two solo) and Wilson had four solo tackles and a pass deflection to contribute to New England's 24-3 victory over the Ravens, who were held to 124 net yards and converted only 3 of 14 times on third down.

"Obviously, if somebody gets banged up, I go in there at the safety position," said Davis, a 10-year NFL veteran who played against the Patriots for the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl and then got his first Super Bowl ring in his first season with New England. "Regardless of who's in there, certain defenses work better against certain teams and others don't. So, we've been fortunate enough to play some teams where our style of play has worked."

Davis, who was asked in the preseason by defensive backs coach Eric Mangini to try to add to his repertoire and to the team's depth at safety, said he isn't any the worse for wear after his multi-tasking. The only surprises have been expressed from the opposition. "Friends on other teams will say, `51, what are you doing back there?' Guys have called me fat and all that kind of stuff, but it's fun. I'm having the time of my life," said Davis. "I knew my role here was on special teams and I was doing everything I could to get into the linebacker rotation, but you never know. I played safety on the scout team a little last year when we were banged up and that could be a reason. I just know I can run and I jumped at the opportunity."

Being able to move Davis is made easier by the flexibility of the team's offensive and defensive systems, particularly the latter in recent weeks. Belichick said if he chooses to go with seven defensive backs in a passing situation, some corners or safeties are actually playing linebacker-type positions.

"There is also some interchangeability between linebackers, like in Don's case," said Belichick, "playing safety-type positions. That interchangeability is built in early in training camp. It is used in different percentages or with different emphasis, depending on the game plan and situation."

Sunday in Cleveland, expect the Patriots' defensive backfield to get plenty of work because in last Sunday's 58-48 loss to Cincinnati, Cleveland quarterback Kelly Holcomb threw for five touchdowns and 413 yards. The variable, of course, is how the injury-plagued Browns will react to the departure of coach Butch Davis.

Expect the 10-1 Patriots to throw their usual array of interchangeable defensive parts at the 3-8 Browns, with the tweaking dependent upon the status of their injured cornerbacks.

"It's good to be more than one-dimensional as a player," said defensive end Richard Seymour, who has been used as a blocker on occasion with the offensive unit. "We pride ourselves on being versatile. We want to be the total package, and that's how we approach it. Any time you can take a player like Eugene and move him to the corner or move [linebacker] Mike Vrabel around to the other side of the ball, or Troy Brown, guys like that who can move around and do it all, that makes it easier because we don't have to bring a new guy in to get it done."

Seymour said he was excited when asked to participate in the offense. "Any time you can help keep the chains moving or help another guy get into the end zone, that's what it's about," he said. "It's about being a football player and I'm glad to help get it done."

And he credits defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel with staying cool during the team's patching up of the backfield.

"He does a good job of letting players play relaxed," said Seymour. "His attitude is, `OK, maybe you didn't get it done then, but you'll get it done the next time.' " . . .
The Patriots re-signed wide receiver Kevin Kasper and released defensive back Omare Lowe. Kasper was signed Oct. 6 and appeared in six games, mostly on special teams, before being released last Saturday when Lowe was signed off the practice squad. Lowe played sparingly in Sunday's win over the Ravens.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives