RadioBDC Logo
| Listen Live

Unknown quantity

Patriots' defense has had a number of obscure players forced into prominent roles

Linebacker Jeff Tarpinian (left) and safety Sterling Moore made their first NFL starts in last Sunday’s win over the Jets. Linebacker Jeff Tarpinian (left) and safety Sterling Moore made their first NFL starts in last Sunday’s win over the Jets. (Photos by Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / November 18, 2011

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

FOXBOROUGH - If you were watching the Patriots play the Jets last Sunday night - and judging by the ratings, plenty of New Englanders were - you noticed some awkward moments as the defensive starters got their two seconds of face time to introduce themselves.

Right after a smiling Rob Ninkovich announced that he attended Purdue, there was simply a still photo of Jeff Tarpinian. And right after James Ihedigbo called UMass “ZooMass’’ (have to think school administrators cringed), there was another still photo, this one of Sterling Moore.

And then NBC’s Al Michaels said, “The two guys in the silent movie are making their first-ever starts tonight.’’

Tarpinian and Moore were in full color, but even Michaels didn’t give voice to their names.

The venerable announcer was likely in the same spot as even some of the most ardent Patriots followers: After the team announced that safety Patrick Chung wouldn’t be able to play because of a foot injury, came the surprising news that Moore, an undrafted rookie out of Southern Methodist, would play in his place, not Sergio Brown.

And while it had been known that linebacker Brandon Spikes wouldn’t play because of a sprained medial collateral ligament, what wasn’t known was that Tarpinian, also an undrafted rookie, and not Gary Guyton, would get the starting nod.

Ninkovich and Ihedigbo may have gotten their close-ups during the introductions, but not too long ago they also sent folks scrambling to the roster for identification purposes. As did Kyle Arrington, Phillip Adams, and Antwaun Molden - essentially, nearly all of the Patriots’ current secondary.

So, who exactly are these guys?

Moore is an affable Oakland, Calif., native, who sports eye-catching red earrings that look more like golf tees. Listed at 5 feet 10 inches, 205 pounds, he was originally signed by his hometown Raiders. A cutdown-day casualty, he was brought back to Oakland’s practice squad a day later, but was released in late September. Less than two weeks later, he was on the Patriots’ practice squad.

When he arrived in Foxborough, Moore was given a directive: Don’t just learn the outside cornerback and “star’’ position (what the Patriots call their slot or nickel corner), learn safety, too.

Having a corner learn to play both outside and in the slot is nothing new in New England. Coach Bill Belichick was asked this week if there was something he saw in Moore to lead him to believe he might be proficient at safety.

“I think he has good size for a corner, probably a little undersized for a safety, so he’s a little bit of a tweener in terms of size,’’ Belichick said. “He had a lot of production as a corner in college. He’s also played the inside position. We just felt like from his overall experience, ball skills, kind of the way he played, we thought he might have some ability to play safety along the lines of Eugene Wilson, who we moved from corner to safety.

“There are certain players that, based on their physical skills, their mentality, are potential corner-to-safety moves . . . I think in Sterling’s case, he’s got a number of different skills that he’s got something going for him at safety, he has some things going for him at star, he’s got some things going for him at corner on the perimeter.

“How does all that play out when you’re a new player? You try him at all three spots a little bit and see how it goes.’’

Thus far, Moore is enjoying safety, saying yesterday, “You’ve got to read a lot more routes when you’re back there. There’s a lot more coming at you. At the same time, it’s a lot more freedom because you’re not necessarily guarding one person. You can kind of read the quarterback.’’

Tarpinian was one of a dozen undrafted free agents the Patriots brought in for training camp. The Iowa product was graded as a late-round pick, but wasn’t drafted.

Listed at 6-3, 238, the linebacker was injured during camp, but remained on the 53-man roster through final cutdowns. However, he was released before the regular-season opener when the Patriots needed a roster spot for Thomas Welch because of injuries on the offensive line. Tarpinian was brought back to the practice squad, promoted before the third game of the season, and has played every game since on special teams.

Like Moore, not only was Sunday night Tarpinian’s first career start, he was playing his first-ever snaps on defense.

Adams has a full season of game experience under his belt. A seventh-round pick of the 49ers in 2010, he played 15 games, mostly on special teams, but he also got 76 snaps with the defense. In San Francisco’s 15th game, against the Rams, he suffered an ugly ankle injury on special teams.

The 49ers drafted two corners this April, and Adams wasn’t brought back. But he’s seen his snaps steadily rise in each of the last three games, and has supplanted Molden, claimed off waivers during the preseason after he was released by Houston, at the star spot.

However, his role could change this week. The biggest knock against Moore in his first game was that he took out Devin McCourty, separating his shoulder as the two converged on Plaxico Burress. McCourty isn’t expected to play Monday night against the Chiefs, so Adams and Molden may find themselves back in the spotlight.

Patriots Video