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Ihedigbo emerges as leader for motley Patriots secondary

AFC Championship - Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots Getty Images

There is no better example of New England’s odd roster composition than in the secondary.

They have four players who have changed positions. Cornerbacks are playing safety, safeties are playing cornerback, and two wide receivers are playing both positions.

The best cornerback (Kyle Arrington) was undrafted. The leader of the group may just be a “street free agent” safety that was signed late in training camp. PFT spoke to a few Patriots players Thursday morning that said former Jets safety James Ihedigbo was the leader of the secondary.

“I definitely have taken on a leadership role. I’ve played in a lot of big games in my young career in the NFL and those guys understand that,” Ihedigbo said.

He made two straight AFC title games in New York, and now has reached the Super Bowl. Ihedigbo was known as a limited player in New York that specialized in big hits with poor coverage. He makes a physical tandem with Patrick Chung, who is probably the best player in the secondary right now. Ihedigbo says he thinks day and night of what he’s going to do in the Super Bowl.

It says a lot the Patriots are relying so heavily on Ihedigbo, a player no other team wanted. The team is also counting on rookie undrafted free agent Sterling Moore, who was cut by both the Patriots and Raiders this year while playing safety. Now he’s at cornerback.

“There was a point, especially after being cut after I started three games at safety, where I wondered if I’d be on practice squad the rest of the season,” Moore said. “You let that creep out of your mind.”

I asked him about the differences between the Raiders and the Patriots.

“Everybody’s more . . .  businesslike here,” Moore said, shaking his head. “As many superstars we have on the team, they don’t act like it.”

Devin McCourty is the somewhat fallen star of the group. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie cornerback and struggled so much this season that he’s primarily been playing safety of late.  He’s taken the change in stride and points out the team has played its best football of late because they have settled in roles.

He admits that some of Bill Belichick’s moves come as a surprise.

“Yeah, because my football mind isn’t there yet. I can’t think how he thinks, but it usually works pretty well,” McCourty said.

One of the most surprising moves: Making wide receiver Julian Edelman a cornerback and using receiver Matthew Slater at safety on occasion. Edelman has grown into a cornerback the Patriots trust enough to man the slot with a Super Bowl trip on the line. His physical play has genuinely given the opposition problems.

So how will this group attack New York’s three talented wideouts?

McCourty said that limiting yards after the catch was an emphasis for Super Bowl Sunday. He doesn’t expect the Patriots to match up with the same Giants receivers all game. He expects the Patriots to mix up coverages quite a bit.

Moore said they are focusing on ball skills. All of the players said they expect the unexpected come gametime.

“We’ll see things, we change it up midgame,” Moore said.

Changing on the fly has become the norm for this Patriots secondary. It’s amazing this group plays for the team slightly favored on Super Bowl Sunday.

If they can hold up one more week, it will be even more amazing this group will be a Super Bowl-winning secondary.

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13 Responses to “Ihedigbo emerges as leader for motley Patriots secondary”
  1. nflovercollegefb says: Feb 2, 2012 12:16 PM

    The fact is yards don’t count, points do and the Patriots have given up 58 fewer points this season (342-400) than the Giants have.

    I believe BB will have a solid game plan on defense in place and that this will be a Super Bowl winning secondary.

  2. cunninglinguist69 says: Feb 2, 2012 12:16 PM

    Kyle Arrington was an undrafted free agent, not a seventh-round draft pick.

  3. CKL says: Feb 2, 2012 12:23 PM

    I love these guys. Not a diva or attitude problem in sight on this squad. It’s been awhile since they’ve had that type of team. They’re far from the most talented team BB has had on defense but they work hard and are coachable.

  4. 6ball says: Feb 2, 2012 12:36 PM

    .

    Patriots fans have no clue as the who plays in the secondary and at what position.

    Although it’s always interesting to find out before a playoff game that’s your starting cornerback, Sterling Moore, is a 21 year old who was cut from the Raiders practice squad . With Belichick this is normalcy.

    .

  5. kd75 says: Feb 2, 2012 12:43 PM

    Ihedigbo and Cruz…When was the last time UMass had two former players in a Super Bowl?

    This is the most UMass love I can recall since 96: Calipari and Marcus Camby (and Padilla, Travieso, Dingle & Roe).

  6. bobhk says: Feb 2, 2012 2:00 PM

    Belichick will have to come up with hell of a plan to contain the Giants WRs.

    Talent wise there’s no comparison. If Cruz and Nicks get open it’s gonna be a long day for Pats.

  7. Mr. Wright 212 says: Feb 2, 2012 2:42 PM

    “Best” and Arrington do not go together. The INT stats mean nothing, he is still garbage.

  8. kingcarlbanks says: Feb 2, 2012 3:34 PM

    Ill take Cruz, Nicks and Manningham all day long vs the Pats secondary. Hell I bet Beckum even gets some catches. Looking at that group I’d be real nervous if I was a Pats fan. And as for people talking about how many points the Giants gave up this year, take a look at who the Giants played compared to the Pats.

  9. dolphins4 says: Feb 2, 2012 5:03 PM

    Arrington used to be an Eagle.

  10. rushmatic says: Feb 2, 2012 7:11 PM

    bobhk says:
    Belichick will have to come up with hell of a plan to contain the Giants WRs.

    Talent wise there’s no comparison. If Cruz and Nicks get open it’s gonna be a long day for Pats.

    ______________

    What are you trying to say? DUH! Do you see no scenario where Gronkowski, Hernandez, Branch or Welker get open?

    Man, the short-sightedness of football fans…

  11. richwizl says: Feb 3, 2012 6:58 PM

    The Patriots went 13-3 this season while the G’s went 9-7; both teams had major injuries. The Redskins beat the G’s twice, Pats beat them in DC. The Eagles beat the Gmen while NE crushed them in Phila. Both teams beat Dallas. Gmen squeaked by the Bills at home, while Bills beat Pats on a FG w no time left; then, Pats destroyed them in Foxboro. Gmen barely got by Miami at home; Pats beat them twice. The Saints crushed the Gmen and Seattle beat them good, too. Pats lost 3 games by a total of 15 points, otherwise would have gone 16-0, again. Gmen beat Pats with 15 secs left because our Safety ran over their wide-out like a truck, giving them the ball on the 1 yd line; stupid penalty. Play before that Eli should have been intercepted; Gmen had some luck that day. Gmen are good, but not so much that the Pats are going to be afraid of them; they’re very beatable, especially if Mr. Brady is on his game.

  12. 1historian says: Feb 3, 2012 11:43 PM

    In the 11 quarters since the 1st quarter of the Bills game the Pats’ D has given up 30 points. Had it not been for the interception in the 1st half of the Denver game and the fumble in the 2nd half, that game could have very well been a shutout. They seem to be coming together at just the right time.

    The offense has been doing ok – 38 ppg in those 3 games.

    Tom Brady is WAY overdue for one of his “I’m Tom Brady and you’re NOT!!” games.

    Be afraid, Giants fans – be

  13. drakost says: Feb 5, 2012 4:48 PM

    What should worry Giant fans the most is that Tom Brady usually does not have 2 bad games in a row

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