- Associated Press - Sunday, July 20, 2014

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) - The Patriots’ defense struggled for much of last season. And that was before it faced the NFL’s best offense in the AFC championship game.

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos won 26-16 and piled up 507 yards, the most New England allowed in Bill Belichick’s 14 years as coach.

So the Patriots stocked up on players to fix that.

Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner lead the group of defensive newcomers that includes linebacker James Anderson, end Will Smith and lineman Dominique Easley, their first-round draft choice. Three key defenders - linebacker Jerod Mayo and tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly - return from injuries that sidelined them for most of 2013.

All that should improve a defense that gave up the seventh-most yards overall and third-most yards rushing in the league on a team that still managed to go 12-4.

“This year is going to be a little special just because of what I’ve been through and how far I came along” from a torn Achilles tendon, said Wilfork, who starts his 11th training camp with the Patriots on Wednesday.

Young linebackers Dont’a Hightower, entering his third year, and Jamie Collins, starting his second, improved as the 2013 season progressed.

“He’s blossomed a lot sooner than anybody (expected),” Hightower said of Collins. “He was a lot more mature his first year than some people are in their third year.”

Revis is one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks. Browner is one of the biggest, but must miss the first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. They also have cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, a starter last season.

How good can the secondary be?

“The sky’s the limit,” Revis said after minicamp last month. “When we get back in training camp we have to be ready to go. We need much improvement. We do. That includes everyone, including me.”

Some things to watch as the Patriots begin camp:

HAPPY TOGETHER?: Revis, while with the New York Jets in 2012, called Belichick a “jerk.” Now, it seems, they’ve made up.

“We had a conversation about it and it’s in the past,” Revis said after joining the Patriots.

Since then, he’s seen a more positive side of Belichick.

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