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Patriots notebook

Springs and Sanders provide needed boost to defense

By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / December 23, 2009

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When the Patriots struck their lowest point this season, their most glaring personnel changes came in the defensive backfield. For the past two weeks, cornerback Shawn Springs and safety James Sanders have been starting after having seen scant playing time this season.

Springs and Sanders were inserted as starters after the Patriots had dropped to 7-5 following consecutive losses in which opposing quarterbacks shredded the secondary. With those two in the lineup, albeit against two below-average passing attacks, the Patriots played two of their best defensive games this year.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said Springs and Sanders fit best into the game plans for the Panthers and Bills. Springs is a physical cornerback, and he handled Steve Smith of the Panthers and Terrell Owens of the Bills. On Sunday, Owens caught two passes for 20 yards.

“For what we’ve kind of done the last couple of weeks,’’ Pees said, “we preferred what they give a little more than maybe somebody else.’’

Springs had been inactive for five weeks, and Sanders had been replaced as a starter by Brandon McGowan and spent the majority of his playing time on special teams.

The Patriots worried Springs might not be able to endure a full game, but he has held up in part because the Patriots needed fewer than 60 defensive plays in both games. Otherwise, Springs and Sanders walked back into the lineup as if they never had left.

“That’s their professionalism,’’ Pees said. “I don’t go in there and talk to them and give them pep talks. They’re paid to handle this as a profession. They know that at any point in time, their number may get called. When you talk to them and when you prepare them every week, you prepare them as if they are going to play.’’

While the insertion of Springs and Sanders has worked well so far, that doesn’t mean it is permanent.

“We’ve matched up differently over the course of the year,’’ coach Bill Belichick said. “And we’ll just have to look at it week-to-week as to how we feel the best way to do it is. There’s always some thought of whether you want to change that vs. do you want to keep the continuity you have. Or do you want to have a matchup that you think is your best matchup against your particular opponent.’’

Secret running back
Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor remain close friends from their time together in Jacksonville, where Taylor mentored Jones-Drew when he came into the league in 2006. They speak often, and Jones-Drew tried his best to determine if Taylor would play Sunday against his former team.

“We were talking a little bit,’’ Jones-Drew said. “I asked him if he was going to play, and I didn’t get a response back. I kind of figured it was a ‘yeah.’ ’’

While Jones-Drew dropped that hint, Taylor was offering none. It has been 10 weeks since Taylor last played, and all the work he’s done rehabbing after ankle surgery has been focused on returning for one game more than any other.

Taylor wants to be on the field to face his old teammates. In an interview with the Florida Times-Union, Taylor said his status remains undecided for Sunday.

“I really couldn’t say, honestly,’’ Taylor told the newspaper. “I’ve been doing some good things in practice. I had a pretty significant injury, man. But I’m grateful that coach Belichick didn’t put me on [injured reserve], considering how banged up we’ve been throughout the season. He’s been patient.

“We have a stable of running backs that can more than get the job done. But for whatever reason, he decided not to put me on IR and I’m thankful. I don’t know what’s gonna happen this week. I’m questionable. That’s 50-50, right?’’

Taylor was asked again if he’d play Sunday. “I work for the CIA and the Patriots, man,’’ Taylor said, laughing.

Seattle calling?
According to a report by ProFootballTalk.com, Patriots senior football adviser Floyd Reese and pro personnel director Jason Licht are on a long list of candidates for the Seahawks general manager position. Neither Belichick nor director of player personnel Nick Caserio would address the report, saying their focus is on the Jaguars . . . Sunday’s game will offer a chance to evaluate the trade the Patriots and Jaguars made at April’s draft. The Patriots sent their third-round pick, the 73d overall, to the Jaguars for a 2009 seventh-round pick (232d overall) and a second-round pick in 2010. At No. 73, the Jaguars selected cornerback Derek Cox, who has started all 14 games and has three interceptions. At No. 232, the Patriots picked receiver Julian Edelman.

Adam Kilgore can be reached at akilgore@globe.com.

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