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What’s Next For The Patriots After Losing 2014 Super Bowl Hero To Injury?

The injury of cornerback Malcolm Butler throws a wrench into the progress and development of the Patriots in the offseason. They will be left figuring out how to adjust.

After a joint practice with Carolina that displayed strong defensive play and improvement from the offense, the Patriots were feeling pretty good. For all of about an hour, that is. Cornerback Malcolm Butler’s hip injury during practice turned out to be season-ending. Suddenly, instead of a nostalgic reunion, the CB group now loses much-needed depth.

What Are The Patriots Losing In Butler?

Malcolm Butler was never the number one option, nor did he have the speed, especially at 32, to keep up with the fastest receivers in the league. However, he has been highly reliable. With 405 career tackles, 17 interceptions, 82 pass deflections, five forced fumbles, and even three sacks, Butler was a jack of all trades and could impact the team in various ways. His athleticism makes up for his lack of raw speed and football IQ, allowing him to read plays and make a play on the ball, and these abilities brought a boost to the Patriots’ defense.

Most prevalent is his big moment presence. He made vital, game-altering plays in critical moments and red zone situations, no example more evident than the 2014 Super Bowl. In the same series, he made a touchdown-saving tackle on Jermaine Kearse and a game-winning interception where he perfectly read the play and saved the Patriots from a precarious situation.

He was starting to show shades of these same traits in his preseason opener against the Giants, with some impressive red-zone reads and a fumble recovery. However, with his injury, the Patriots incur a significant loss to an already questionable group of corners.

What Does This Mean For the Patriots And The Roster Picture?

Which Patriots Corners Have To Step Up?

The secondary lacks a true star and was relying on the presence of enough depth and solid contributors to hold up against potent offenses. The injury of Butler occurred on the same day as a season-ending injury of CB Joejuan Williams. While Williams was on the roster bubble, with the damage of Butler, he would have been an essential source of depth.

Jalen Mills was already expected to be the number one option in the cornerback unit. He has impressed throughout camp with his performance head-to-head against the Patriots’ receiving core. Still, his importance is even greater, with the depth behind him getting weaker. Jonathan Jones and Terrance Mitchell will have to provide the veteran backbone. Mitchell had an up-and-down first preseason game against the Giants and struggled against their starting receivers. He will need to discover a form similar to his breakout 2017 season in Kansas City to help the secondary.

All three members of the Jones trio will also have to play significant roles. Jonathan Jones will have to be more than just another option and will have a much larger snap load this year, especially as the rookies get ready. Furthermore, Jack and Marcus Jones, the draft pick cornerbacks for the Patriots this year, will have to come in sooner than they expected. Both have shown impressive athleticism in camp.

Marcus’s agility and raw speed allow him to keep up with any receiver. Still, he will have to learn the defensive system and become better at reading plays to contribute immediately. Jack Jones’ nature as a ball hawk was on full display in his preseason debut, and he had an impressive tackle and pass deflection in limited action. However, he will need to prove that he can do it against first-team level units and avoid becoming too opportunistic.

Both of these picks have lots of latent potential and are extremely physically gifted, but all of a sudden, they can’t settle into their roles. They must become NFL-ready as close to week one as possible. The upcoming preseason games and joint practices will play a role in this.

Which Players Can Make Their Case For A Roster Spot?

Even after one preseason game, it has proven to be a challenging task to whittle the team from 90 to 53, but this could complicate things even more.

The secondary is the most obvious place where an additional roster member can come from. Myles Bryant, who had an up-and-down first preseason game, does have good athleticism. Furthermore, with 41 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble, and three pass deflections, he has had significant experience and decent production in a Patriots uniform. Although he couldn’t shut down the better receivers he faced, his expertise in the system could be valuable, and his excellent punt returning in the first preseason game shows his potential as a special teamer. Shaun Wade would be potentially next in line in the group, but he didn’t have a very good outing against the Giants.

However, a spot could also increase the depth of a position group that would have originally had a capable player cut. Whether it’s defensive ends LaBryan Ray and Sam Roberts. Receivers Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Kristian Wilkerson, and Tre Nixon. Linebackers Raekwon McMillian and Ronnie Perkins. Several players who had great opening preseason games are on the chopping block. Rather than replacing two cornerbacks with two far less promising ones, other, more talent-rich personnel groups could also become deeper. The direction the Patriots choose will depend a lot on what happens in the next two weeks.

The Bottom Line

With Butler’s season-ending injury, the Patriots lose a key member of their secondary, one with valuable skills and experience. Combined with the loss of Joejuan Williams, the cornerback’s group gets much thinner. Athletic rookies Marcus and Jack Jones will have to play more prominent roles more quickly than anticipated, and the more experienced Mills, Mitchell and Jonathan Jones will have to elevate their levels, especially against an AFC with better-than-ever receivers. Many players in and out of the secondary show promise and will be vying for the roster spots those two injuries leave open. The pressure is on for week two and week three.

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