One new wrinkle the Patriots flashed during practices last week was moving Kyle Arrington to safety. The sixth-year defensive back, who last year saw the majority of his snaps at slot cornerback, started Friday night’s exhibition game against the Eagles at safety alongside Devin McCourty.
Later in the game, second-year cornerback Logan Ryan also played at safety.
Throughout training camp, the Patriots have rotated players at safety. With McCourty entrenched as one starter, Duron Harmon was thought to have the inside track on the other spot when the regular season began. But Patrick Chung and Tavon Wilson (before a recent injury) also took reps there, and then last week Arrington and Ryan moved to safety at times.
Camp is the time to try different things, and Arrington and Ryan at safety sounds like something the Patriots were getting a look at for times when they play offenses with multiple pass-catching threats.
“The Eagles were in multiple-receiver sets the majority of the game,” coach Bill Belichick explained. “There were some plays where they were in two tight ends and two wide receivers, but even in those situations a lot of the times the tight end was a very good receiver, more of a pass-receiving tight end. A lot of their two-tight-end formations really played like three receivers and one tight end. Even their three-receiver sets kind of played like four receivers because they still had a good tight end in there.
“That inside position that Logan and Kyle played, I would say, relates more to the nickel position that they play in sub defense than it does to the safety position in a regular defense against a two-receiver set. I’m not saying that there isn’t some application of both, but because it’s a multiple-receiver team, that nickel position, the slot guy, could either be on that receiver or he could be playing some type of zone coverage more like a safety. It’s against that type of personnel group that we’ve done it. A lot of other teams in the league do it, too.
“So, it’s not really nickel but it’s not really your regular defense, it’s a little bit of a hybrid to try to match up against the multiple receivers that that offense has on the field. I think they’ve both done a good job with it. Logan’s played some safety for us in the past, so has Kyle. They’ve both played that position — that fourth defensive back. It’s not really anything new to them. It definitely has a lot of carryover for them from when we are in our nickel defense and they play slot.”
McCourty, who has partnered with so many teammates this summer, said no matter which player is in the backfield with him, communication is key.
“When Kyle’s out there, I’ve been playing with him for five years now, so that’s nothing new, and all the guys, whether it’s Logan, Chung, or Duron, or even Tavon and Nate [Ebner] when they’re out there, we’re all communicating, getting things done,” McCourty said. “It’s key because throughout the year you just don’t know what’s going to happen. It could be any of us out there, any combination, so we all have to be able to communicate with each other and make sure we’re running the back end of the defense.”
Because they are cornerbacks, McCourty said Arrington and Ryan are a little different than players who primarily play safety. As someone who began his NFL career as a corner and successfully shifted to safety — he was voted second-team All-Pro last season — McCourty understands what it takes to make the move.
“A lot of smart guys can make a bunch of different transitions within the secondary, whether it’s having some guys that are able to move closer to the box on passing situations and almost play like a linebacker, or a corner moving to free safety,” he said. “If you’re fast, you’re athletic, you understand defensive concepts, it might take a little while but I think you’ll be able to make the switch a lot easier than I think a safety trying to move to corner.”
Asked specifically about his good friend Arrington (he was a groomsman in Arrington’s wedding), McCourty expressed confidence in his abilities.
“I think he’s smart, I think he understands the defense on the whole, so I think the way he plays, he can fit in at safety, he can fit in at corner, he’s an aggressive guy,” McCourty said. “He’s always played physical, so for him, if they play him more then he’ll be out there doing it and if not he’ll be out there at corner, either inside or outside. I think him being able to play inside and outside has given him more understanding of the defense, so it allows him to do more things now that Coach asks him to do.”
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The Patriots re-signed tight end Justin Jones, a league source confirmed. Jones was released Aug. 10 after signing with the Patriots after the draft. Jones takes the spot of rookie long snapper Tyler Ott, who was released Sunday. The Patriots only have one healthy tight end other than Jones (Steve Maneri), as Rob Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui are working back from injuries.Ben Volin of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Shalise Manza Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.