Positioning

Guregian: Are the Patriots trending toward a ‘position-less’ defense? – Boston Herald

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FOXBORO — Four years later, Malcolm Butler says he doesn’t see much change in the Patriots’ defensive scheme.
Although after Tuesday’s OTA practice, Butler did reveal there is “a little tweak to it.”
What’s the tweak?
The Patriots’ former Super Bowl hero didn’t elaborate, but a growing theory is “position-less football.”
Slot corner Jonathan Jones used the term in a tweet last March, saying that’s the future of the game. But what does it mean?
“We got so much versatility,” Jones said Tuesday. “We have guys that can play safety, come down and play star (slot), play corner. We’ve got a lot of versatility.”
Belichick has always loved the ability to move his defensive chess pieces around, and to that end, the Patriots have quite a few defensive backs — be it Jones, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers or Myles Bryant — who can be used in multiple spots.
Rookie corners Marcus Jones and Jack Jones can also move around, whether playing outside corner or in the slot.
The way it looks — not to mention the way it’s being portrayed — the Patriots’ aim is to slow down high-powered offenses through their versatility; wreak a little havoc on opposing quarterbacks who can’t identify pre-snap which defender has which assignment.
The Patriots are thin at cornerback, especially those with man-coverage skills, so they’re going to pull from the position in the defensive backfield where they’re the strongest: safety.
Bill Belichick coaches offense again, Mac Jones stays late and more Patriots OTA observations

“The more we can do as a defense as a whole, it just makes the whole scheme a whole lot better,” Phillips said. “You don’t know what I’ll be doing on certain plays. You don’t know what Jon Jones or any of the other guys are doing on certain plays. Being able to do that is great.”
Phillips, Dugger, Peppers and Devin McCourty are a formidable group, no matter where they're asked to line up. Second-year safety Joshuah Bledsoe might also factor into the mix after essentially taking a redshirt year.
Given their lack of top man-corners, the Pats are likely to play more zone, and Belichick can move around the personnel in his secondary and confuse quarterbacks more easily with that type of scheme. There will still be an appearance of man coverage, but Belichick will mix it up to amplify the subterfuge.
Hence, the buzzword "position-less" football.
It’s a bit of a “tweak” from what Butler was used to seeing from the group of defensive backs when he started with the Patriots. During his first foray, the Pats always had a shutdown man-to-man corner to take care of one side of the field, and eliminate the opposing team’s best player. When Butler was a rookie, the cornerback room featured Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Revis usually took the best receiver and locked him down.
After Revis, Butler temporarily assumed the role as the lead corner, until the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in free agency. J.C. Jackson took over for Gilmore last season, but wasn’t re-signed as a free agent.
So now, Butler has returned to the fold after taking a year off. Being 32, there’s considerable tread on the tires, although Butler has been keeping up during all the gassers Belichick has put the team through during OTAs.
Along with Butler, the Patriots added a few more corners during the offseason, with veteran Terrance Mitchell and the two rookies. Shaun Wade, acquired from the Ravens last year as a rookie, has some versatility, too, but remains an unknown.
Bill Belichick coaches offense again, Mac Jones stays late and more Patriots OTA observations

So the Patriots are banking on a healthy dose of mystery — AKA position-less football — to thwart Buffalo’s Josh Allen, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow, et al.
For his part, Butler doesn’t care if the pundits haven’t expressed much faith in the Patriots cornerback room, or collective defense.
He is well aware the Patriots did not force the Bills to punt once during the last two times the teams met, and had no answers to stop Allen.
“People are always going to talk. Our job is to keep working,” he said. “If we put the work in, and we execute our job, and we get each other better, we’ll prove it to ourselves, and we’ll prove (the doubters) wrong also.”
Butler, of course, is out to prove he hasn’t lost it. After retiring last year and spending the season out of football, he feels at home — even if the defense is a little different this time around.
“If I prove it to myself, I prove it to my teammates at the same time," he said. "So, that’s why I’m working hard every day and staying focused.”
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