Copeland: Here's what sets Pats' D apart from other teams


Don't be fooled by Bill Belichick's favorite mantra.

While the Patriots head coach loves to tell his players, "Do your job," New England's defenders are tasked with handling much more than their own assignments.

Just ask veteran linebacker Brandon Copeland, who is on his fifth team (and sixth head coach) in seven seasons after signing with the Patriots in March.

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Copeland might play multiple positions in New England -- he's a converted college defensive end who's played both middle and outside linebacker -- but the 29-year-old has realized his flexibility is par for the course on Belichick's defense.

"Guys can play in different positions, but it's also just an understanding," Copeland said Thursday in a video conference with reporters. "Being any player on this defense, you know what everyone else is doing around you. And I can honestly say that that doesn't happen in every defense that I've been in for the past seven years in my career. 

"It's not typical that your nose guard knows what your safety is doing on a play. And that's a beautiful thing."

The Patriots rarely boast the NFL's most talented defenders (Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore notwithstanding), but the unit makes up for a lack of star power with versatility and superior communication.

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That may explain why previously overlooked players like Mike Vrabel, Rob Ninkovich and Kyle Van Noy blossomed into key contributors on Super Bowl-winning defenses in New England.

"(It allows you) to play much faster on defense because you just know where everyone is around you," Copeland added of players knowing their teammates' assignments.


The NFL's best defense in 2019 may drop off this season with Van Noy, Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon out of the picture. But the unit's core principles may help soften the blow of those departures.

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