COMMENTARY | Since the New England Patriots departed early from the final day of minicamp on June 13, a whirlwind of news has broken. And very little of it has been positive.
The latest damaging news surrounds second-year cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.
According to Jay Withrow of the Omaha World-Herald, the University of Nebraska product was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, refusal of a chemical test and straddling lane lines early Thursday morning, July 11, in Lincoln, Neb.
This is the second arrest involving the talented defensive back. Just days before the 2012 NFL draft, Dennard was jailed for punching a police officer investigating a fight outside a Lincoln bar. His draft stock plummeted all the way to Round 7, pick 224 overall as a result, where the Patriots took a calculated risk.
Through his first campaign in New England, that calculated risk paid off. Dennard started seven games at right cornerback after being hobbled by a hamstring problem early. He notched 35 tackles, forced one fumble and intercepted three passes in 10 total contests.
This April, however, Dennard was sentenced to 30 days in jail, two years of probation and 100 hours of law enforcement-related community service after he was convicted for his pre-draft arrest.
With negative headlines prevalent, New England's brass finds themselves in tough circumstances. Between setting an example, awaiting a possible ruling from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and potential legal implications, there are several variables left to play out regarding Dennard.
The organization issued the following statement at noon on Thursday:
"The New England Patriots are extremely disappointed to learn of Alfonzo Dennard's arrest. We take this matter very seriously and are working to get more information on the incident."
It goes without saying that this situation comes at a bad time for the Patriots. But regardless of what transpires with Dennard -- who has a court date scheduled for Aug. 12, during training camp -- the depth at the Patriots' cornerback position is now under the microscope.
Aside from Dennard -- who was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the No. 30 overall cornerback in the NFL last season -- the Patriots have seven cornerbacks on the 90-man roster.
Excluding converted free safety Devin McCourty from that list, here's a look at the cornerback spot.
Acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during last year's trade deadline, Aqib Talib found a home in the Patriots secondary. The 27-year-old Kansas product started five games for New England in 2012 and played strong press-man coverage against opposing "X" receivers. He was hampered by injuries late in the year. But when on the field, he acted as a catalyst, setting the defensive backfield personnel to equilibrium. The 6'1", 205-pounder recorded 19 tackles, two pass deflections and returned an interception for a touchdown during his half season in New England. He was re-signed on a one-year deal in March.
Undrafted out of Hofstra in 2008, Kyle Arrington bounced around with the Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles before hanging on with the Patriots in 2009. He worked his way up from the practice squad to special teams and became a starter in 2011, where he logged a league-leading seven interceptions. While the 5'10", 190-pound corner proved to be a playmaker, his best role was found in the nickel during 2012. Arrington's ability to play the "Star" position has minimized his tendency to get turned around outside and allowed him to stay in front of the ball. An adept pursuer of the football, the 26-year-old finished last season with 74 tackles, 11 pass deflections and one forced fumble. In March, he was re-signed on a four-year deal.
The No. 33 overall draft choice in the 2011 draft, Ras-I Dowling has been bombarded by injuries to this point in his professional career. In two years with the Patriots, the Virginia Cavalier has played in nine games, accumulated seven tackles and one pass deflection. Dowling has spent two stints on injured reserve with hip and quadriceps injuries. But according to NESN.com's Luke Hughes, Dowling was the best cornerback on the field this spring. If he hits his stride, the 6'1", 215-pounder could become a starter on the outside.
The Patriots took Rutgers Scarlet Knight Logan Ryan in Round 3 of April's draft. A very productive college player who tallied seven interceptions over his last two seasons, Ryan has familiarized himself with zone coverage more so than man. That said, he has the size at 5'11", 205 pounds along with the physicality and the tackling ability to play both. The 22-year-old may be in line for a surprise impact as a rookie.
A journeyman, Marquice Cole brings excellent effort on special teams and can provide the defense with a nickel or dimeback when the situation calls for it. The 29-year-old played in 14 games and amassed 17 tackles, three pass breakups and one interception in 2012. The 5'10", 195-pound Northwestern standout was re-signed on a one-year deal in March.
Another prospect from the Rutgers pipeline, Brandon Jones excelled as a redshirt senior last fall, racking up 31 tackles, five picks, 13 pass deflections and a forced fumble. He went undrafted before agreeing to terms with the Patriots in late April. A 6'0", 190-pounder, the 23-year-old Jones should be in competition for the final cornerback spot or a place on the practice squad.
Coached by former New England offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, Penn State's Stephon Morris brings tremendous speed to the Patriots cornerback depth chart. However, at only 5'8", 190 pounds, the 22-year-old found himself undrafted this year. In 49 games and 24 starts over four years with the Nittany Lions, Morris finished his college career 148 tackles, one interception and 13 pass deflections. Morris figures to be in a fierce battle with the rest of the cornerback group this preseason.
You can follow Oliver on Twitter @OliverBThomas.
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