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Questions and Concerns for Patriots DC DeMarcus Covington

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New England Patriots defensive coordinator, then the defensive line coach, DeMarcus Covington faces reporters, Monday, Aug. 29, 2022, at the NFL football team's stadium, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

The New England Patriots began February by officially announcing their three new coordinators. It was previously assumed that Alex Van Pelt (offense), DeMarcus Covington (defense), and Jeremy Springer (special teams) were being hired to the posts. However, the franchise had not confirmed as much until the Feb. 1 release.

Bill Belichick recently said in a thank you to Patriots fans, “Nowhere in America are pro fans as passionate as they are in New England.” That passion brings plenty of enthusiasm, especially when things are going well. It also can lead to analysis, scrutiny, and criticism. These coordinators will be exposed to all of it, often within one game.

All of these coordinators come with enthusiastic endorsements. Most importantly, they received the approval of the brain trust in Foxboro. But while those things may have helped them earn employment in their current positions, some questions and concerns exist for all three. Why wait until a September slump to raise these issues when they can brought up now?

This article is the second in a three-part series. In the first edition, the first edition featured special teams coordinator Jeremy Springer. This time, the questions and concerns are for the New England Patriots’ new defensive coordinator.

Was Steve Belichick considered for the position?

Last season Jerod Mayo led the New England Patriots defensive meeting. However, it was Steve Belichick who called the defensive plays during games. With Mayo’s ascension to head coach, making Belichick the defensive coordinator made a lot of sense. So was Covington even the best in-house candidate for the job?

Steve Belichick had two factors working in his favor. In addition to calling plays, he also has experience working with both the front seven and the defensive backs. No other coach on the staff, including Jerod Mayo, would have brought that knowledge. Steve Belichick was likely planning to follow his father Bill to another NFL spot, but that did not materialize for the pair. Ultimately, the younger Belichick wound up as defensive coordinator at the University of Washington. But was he offered or at least interviewed for the Patriots post first?

How much responsibility will DeMarcus Covington have?

Last season Jerod Mayo was running meetings and Steve Belichick was calling plays for the defense. And as long as Bill Belichick was in the building, the perception was always going to be that it was ultimately his defense. So how many hats will the first-year coordinator wear in 2023?

The 34-year-old has only been a defensive coordinator for one season at any level. He held the position in 2016 at Eastern Illinois. And even then, Covington was co-coordinator with Michael Hodges, who also interviewed to be the Patriots DC. Ensuring he is not overwhelmed out of the gates is crucial to his long-term success.

Does this staff lack experience?

Bill Belichick leaving the building takes with him more knowledge than most staffs will ever have in a lifetime. And on the defensive side of the ball, the staff is particularly young. Covington is the second-oldest defensive coach so far. Defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery is the old man of the group at 44.

Linebackers coach Dont’a Hightower has a plethora of playing experience but will be entering his first season coaching at any level. Mike Pellegrino is only 30 but is entering his tenth season on the Patriots staff. Likewise, Brian Belichick is in his early 30s but returns to coach a unit he has been working successfully with for years.

Age and experience are two different factors. New England’s defensive staff should have enough experience and leadership to make it work, especially with a former defensive coach as the team’s head coach. That said, another staff addition with more extensive NFL experience should still be under consideration.

Can Covington improve upon a solid defense?

As good as the Patriots defense was in 2023 (certainly excellent compared to their offensive counterparts) there is room for improvement. New England forced 18 turnovers last season. Only six NFL teams had fewer takeaways. They recorded 36 sacks, which was more than only five teams. These numbers are not surprising for a 4-13 team, which the Patriots were, but they are surprising for a team with a defense that was highly regarded.

The easiest way the defense should improve in both forced turnovers and sacks is the return of two players: Matthew Judon and Christian Gonzalez. Getting them back in the lineup should immediately pay dividends for the entire unit. If Judon can return to his Pro Bowl form sacks will certainly increase. Both from him and the other players he takes attention away from. Likewise, Gonzalez’s coverage should add a few picks of his own, in addition to giving others additional time to make plays at all levels.

So while there is certainly room for improvement, Covington will not need to reinvent the wheel to make it happen.

How does Covington in place affect New England’s free agents?

The 2024 NFL free agent class does not affect the New England Patriots defensive line, which was coached by Covington in 2023. There are already ten defensive linemen under contract for the 2024 season: Christian Barmore, Daniel Ekuale, Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Jeremiah Pharms, Sam Roberts, Keion White, Deatrich Wise, Will Bradley-King, and Trysten Hill.

Christian Barmore is the biggest name here. He was the Patriots’ best defensive player last season. Locking Barmore up to a long-term deal should be a top priority for New England’s front office. DeMarcus Covington has been his defensive line coach for Barmore’s entire NFL career, one which has seen the former second-round pick improve and excel. Only Guy and Wise predate Covington coaching the defensive line in New England.

Key New England Patriots free agents on defense should not be negatively affected by DeMarcus Covington getting promoted. Both Covington and Mayo appear to be popular among players. Free agent Josh Uche attended Mayo’s introductory press conference. Kyle Dugger’s position coach returns in Brian Belichick. And Dont’a Hightower was incredibly popular as a player and team leader not long ago. But ultimately in free agency, money will decide who winds up where.

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