by Scott Benson, Patriots Daily Staff

They’re often the last thing between you and a traumatic “oh, shit!” moment, so today let’s preview the Patriots safeties for 2009.

What I Like

Smarts: I like having a 25 year old, fifth-year player on the backline who understands the defense and communicates it so well that a five-time Super Bowl winning coach acted quickly to re-sign him once he became a free agent. No, James Sanders isn’t quite fast enough to suit our taste, nor does he hit quite hard enough to satiate our blood thirst. But this just goes to remind us that we rarely see or understand the whole picture.

Speed: Everyone’s a little antsy after Brandon Meriweather didn’t participate in off-season practices, but the third-year strong safety (warning: the Patriots don’t define these things the way you and I do) is the most promising of the Pats’ backline team. He moves well in both space and close quarters, has some coverage skills, and though the results haven’t always been great, he winds up around the football a lot. He’s a work in progress (tackling and just plain physicality need continued improvement) but the pieces are there for Meriweather to be around for a long time.

Springs: Color me grateful that Shawn Springs can play safety if he needs to. I don’t know if you’ve looked recently, but the other veteran backups at safety are Brandon “Injured Reserve” McGowan, Ray “Terrorist Fist Bump” Ventrone and Matthew Slater.

Second Rounders: We all have our little draft pets and this year the Pats chose mine. If Patrick Chung is anything less than the Tasmanian Devil in the center of the Pats defense, I think we’ll all be a little disappointed. But keep in mind – one day soon Meriweather will prove that you can’t judge every single one of them on their first 16 or even 32 games.

Sustainability: I thought an awful lot of Rodney Harrison, but I’m very glad both he and the Patriots have turned the page here. The King is dead; longer live the new king, whoever he may be.

What I Don’t Like

Shallowness: Like I said, the other veteran backups at safety are Brandon McGowan, Ray Ventrone and Matthew Slater.

Suspense: One of the problems with upside is that it hasn’t happened yet. This applies to items 1, 2, 4 and 5 above. Ouch.

Off-Topic Thought

I think anyone who loves the NFL feels the loss of longtime Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who passed away yesterday after a short battle with cancer just six months since he last worked. Some of those Eagles defenses could flat out rake, thanks to the hyper-aggressive calls of Johnson. The game is better for his having coached it.

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