Patriots ready to turn to promising rookie following key defensive injuries
The New England Patriots’ defense is going to look a lot different moving forward. After suffering injuries last week, top pass rusher Matthew Judon (elbow) and Christian Gonzalez (shoulder) are expected to miss significant time, if not the rest of the season.
Not only are those two of the Patriots’ best defensive players playing key positions, they also had two of the highest usage rates on the unit. Prior to getting hurt, both led their respective positions in snaps played, with Gonzalez’s usage rate over 80 percent, and Judon’s right around 70 percent. How things will change schematically between the two players remains to be seen, but just who takes over those snaps is a question in and of itself.
On Tuesday morning, linebackers coach and de facto co-defensive coordinator Jerod Mayo was asked about replacing those players, starting with Judon. “Judon’s been great for us. In the locker room, in the meeting room, on the field,” Mayo said. “We have other players – it’s not going to be just one guy. It’s going to be multiple guys trying to fill that role.”
“I feel pretty confident about the guys that are on the roster,” Mayo continued.
As a follow up, Mayo was asked about rookie second-round pick Keion White. White was a standout in training camp and has continued that momentum into the start of the regular season. Now, it sounds like the team is ready to give him more responsiblities with Judon out of the lineup.
“Keion has to – he’s going to play more,” Mayo said. “He’s going to play more, simply said. And we’ll really need him to show up.”
“Every week we try to put a little bit more on his plate,” Mayo said, talking about the progress White has made so far this year. “He’s one of these guys who, he kind of doesn’t fit in any mold like the [Deatrich] Wise category [as an edge-setter against the run] or the Judon category. He can kind of do both to a certain extent. He’s doing well and is growing each and every week in the classroom and one the field.”
As for Gonzalez and the cornerback position, Mayo didn’t give any specific names but did emphasize the team’s belief in the players currently on the roster.
“We have good players,” he said. “We have guys that can play in those roles. Obviously, it hurts to lose a guy like Gonzo. But at the same time – we’re kind of going through all of that whole process, the game plan process, right now. We feel pretty confident that we have guys that could fill that role.”
While the Patriots may be confident in their current group of cornerbacks, it is worth noting that the group, as things stand right now, is limited. Gonzalez will join Jack Jones and Marcus Jones on IR. While Jack Jones is eligible to be activated this week, he’s expected to miss more time. Jonathan Jones is still on the active roster but hasn’t played in three weeks due to an ankle injury.
That leaves the team’s only healthy full-time cornerbacks as Myles Bryant and Shaun Wade. Other options may include Jalen Mills who has played cornerback in the past but moved to safety this year, and rookie Ameer Speed, who was a cornerback in college but has played exclusively on special teams this year. The team also has Azizi Hearn and Breon Borders on the practice squad.
Ultimately, making up for the losses of Judon and Gonzalez will go beyond just whoever fills those two spots individually. It will be a team effort, as Mayo pointed out.
“Look, it’s 11 guys out there on defense,” he said. “And those guys understand, when you do have an injury, there’s this next man up mentality.”