COMMENTARY | The bulk of attention through this offseason and early days of training camp for the New England Patriots focused on the overhaul of their passing offense.
However, the team's secondary may see a big impact this year because of the acquisition of veteran safety Adrian Wilson.
The hubbub of the offseason saw the team lose wide receiver Wes Welker to free agency, tight end Aaron Hernandez to jail, and adding media darling Tim Tebow at quarterback. This helped the Wilson signing sail under the radar. Interestingly, it could end up being the move that pays off the most for New England.
The 33-year-old Wilson is a bruising 230-pound safety who spent the first 12 years of his career with the Arizona Cardinals. A third-round pick in the 2001 draft, he has racked up 902 tackles, 25.5 sacks and 27 interceptions. In addition to the impressive stats, he is also one of the most respected leaders in the game and has made five Pro Bowls.
The Patriots may have gone 12-4 during the regular season and won a playoff game last year, but their pass defense was often a weak spot. The unit ranked 25th with 373.3 yards allowed per game, and 29th with 271.4 passing yards allowed per game.
Some of the defensive numbers were padded by teams passing more frequently after falling behind, but there is no doubt that too many big plays were given up by the secondary. The signing of Wilson to a three-year deal could go a long way in improving that unit.
The Patriots haven't had an imposing veteran presence like Wilson in their defensive backfield since Rodney Harrison manned the safety position from 2003-2008. Because of his experience and reputation as a punishing hitter, Wilson is already being compared to his predecessor.
Although Wilson is his own player, he did tell the Boston Herald's Karen Guregian he models his game after the former Patriots great: "When I was first coming up, and when I came into the league, Rodney was a player everybody loved, a safety everybody loved. Going to a West Coast team when I got drafted, and when I was trying to learn the game, and looking at different players who played the same position, it was only natural for me to gravitate toward that style of play."
Wilson is likely on the downside of his career. The 54 tackles he posted last year were his lowest total in a full season since he was a rookie. He was frequently taken out on passing downs in 2013, but still remained effective when he was on the field. Even so, he should still have enough left in the tank to benefit the Patriots with his experience and versatility.
New England's secondary is filled with youth, including Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Ras-I Dowling, Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson and Logan Ryan among others. Safety Devin McCourty has had both highs and lows in his first three seasons before settling in as a starting safety last year. The new veteran could be the field general they need to help make them a better disciplined and effective group.
Because of his size, Wilson may be utilized in multiple roles. While he will see the bulk of his time at safety, it's a good bet he will also get some snaps at linebacker; particularly covering tight ends on passing downs. That ability will fit right in with the Patriots' fondness for using a variety of sub packages.
A big hitter, Wilson will also provide the most menacing presence in the New England defensive backfield since Harrison's departure. There may be more stringent rules than ever about the legality of big hits, but just the threat of what lurks past the tackles can completely alter the identity of a secondary.
The Patriots have developed a trend of bringing in sage veterans like Harrison, Junior Seau and Deion Branch (his second time around) to act as mentors as much as for what they can do on the field. Chalk Wilson up as the newest addition to this category.The little things count in football. While Wilson should still be productive on the field, his greatest impact could be in how his presence affects his teammates in the secondary and the identity of the New England entire defense.
In addition to the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports. He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
You can follow Andrew on Twitter @historianandrew.
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