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NFL Draft preview: Patriots punch up pass defense

The SportsXchange

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Last we saw the New England Patriots pass defense it was struggling to slow down quarterback Peyton Manning and his record-setting passing attack in the AFC title game loss in Denver.

The Patriots were undermanned most of that January day as oft-injured No. 1 corner Aqib Talib was knocked out of the game with a bad knee and the rest of the pass defense failed to pick up the slack -- both in terms of coverage and getting even a sniff of pass rush on Manning.

Not surprisingly coach Bill Belichick's organization has targeted the pass defense, primarily the coverage, this offseason.

While there were key re-signings, such as 100-catch receiver Julian Edelman and starting center Ryan Wendell, as well as the re-working/extension to keep Pro Bowl defensive tackle and team captain Vince Wilfork in the fold, the most buzz-worthy move was adding cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Following his release after just one season with Tampa Bay, Revis was pursued by more than three-quarters of the league. But the Pro Bowler chose to join his former AFC East rivals on a two-year deal for $32 million that will likely boil down to one year and $12 million.

"I want to win," Revis said shortly after his signing. "What better organization -- the New England Patriots -- to be a part of that? If you look at their track record, New England has won year-in and year-out or been to the playoffs, had playoff berths. Right now in my career, I think this is great -- to team up with Tom Brady and Coach Belichick and the New England Patriots team and help them win games. That's what I'm here for. I'm here to win games and play hard-nosed football."

Arguably the best cover corner in the game over his career, Revis is now a year removed from a torn ACL and clearly expects to be even better than what he was able to accomplish in 16 games with the Bucs last fall.

But Revis isn't the only "big" addition to the New England back end as 6-foot-4, 221-pound man cover corner Brandon Browner will also present a new obstacle for the likes of Manning and other opposing quarterbacks in 2014. Though Browner will be suspended for the first four weeks of the season due to his history with the league's drug program, he's expected to vie for a starting role opposite Revis.

With returning former Pro Bowler Devin McCourty at safety and cornerback depth that includes two-year starter Alfonzo Dennard, veteran slot man Kyle Arrington and second-year players Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon, the New England coverage unit appears to be in improved group overall.

While the addition of Revis and Browner are major moves on defense, there would appear to remain holes on that side of the ball at both safety and along the defensive line. Harmon saw regular action last season, but the need for a bigger, more physical player next to McCourty remains strong and there is a solid chance that the starter next to the former Pro Bowler isn't even on the Patriots roster right now.

Along the line there is a need to add young talent at defensive tackle as well as depth at end. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich went almost wire-to-wire on the outside a year ago, but got worn down late in the year and finding a rotational player to inject some life into the pass rush would be ideal.

If you include the need for depth additions at both linebacker and the offensive line, there really isn't a position the Patriots couldn't target at some point on draft weekend. Holding the No. 29 pick in the first round and eight picks overall, Belichick is always a candidate to wheel and deal to fill out his needs in the most economical way possible. This May, that could very well once again lead New England to at least consider trading down to add extra picks in the middle of what is considered a very deep crop of talent.
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