Three defensive players for Patriots fans to keep an eye on this summer as the team takes baby steps in attempting to reach Super Bowl status once again:

Devin McCourty

The Patriots pass defense was largely a disappointment last season, and one player who definitely played a huge role in the overall poor product is Devin McCourty. McCourty came off a rookie season in which he finished as a finalist for Rookie of the Year honors (Ndamukong Suh won). Playing in all 16 games and finishing with 82 tackles, seven interceptions, a sack, and two forced fumbles, it looked as though the Patriots got a steal in the draft. But his sophomore season proved to be a bumpy ride, as he was burned with his back to the ball while playing corner, and moved to the safety position during the season. Will the real McCourty please stand up in Year 3?

Jonathan Fanene

Despite having two 10-sack defensive ends last year in Mark Anderson and Andre Carter, the Patriots pass rush was certainly nothing to write home about. To make matters worse, neither player is on the team this year - although Carter is still a free agent. One of the Patriots' first orders of business during free agency was locking up Fanene, an underused and highly versatile defensive end on the Cincinnati Bengals. Fanene is ready to help out in any way possible - and the Pats need him to: "If [the Patriots] tell me to play nose, I'll play nose. 3-technique, 6-[technique], 7-[technique], outside end, special teams, I'm doing it," he said back in May. ?

Brandon Spikes

If you could sum up Brandon Spikes in one word, it might be "beast." The 6-foot-2, 250-pound inside linebacker is a wrecking ball out there on the field. He's not one to hold back - and has not only shown that, but said it publicly. The problem with Spikes is that the "beast" has not been fully unleashed yet. His rookie campaign was cut short due to testing positive for a banned substance (ADD medication), and his second year started off very slow. If Spikes can play a full season of knock-you-in-your-mouth football, look out.

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