When the New England Patriots came together in July for training camp, no one knew what to expect from the secondary.

The Patriots had won the Super Bowl five months earlier, but their top four cornerbacks – Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard – were no longer on the roster.

Revis was deemed too expensive, so the Patriots let him go. He signed with the New York Jets. Browner also left as a free agent, signing with New Orleans. Arrington, the nickel corner, signed with Baltimore. Dennard is out of football.

In training camp, the depth chart was headed by second-year player Malcolm Butler, the unlikely Super Bowl hero, and Logan Ryan, a third-year player out of Rutgers. The Patriots brought in several veteran cornerbacks to challenge them.

Butler and Ryan not only survived those challenges – Chimdi Chekwa, Bradley Fletcher, Robert McClain and Tarell Brown are no longer on the active roster – but they are among the reasons the Patriots are once again AFC East champions, with an 11-2 record and a chance to secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

“I think that, honestly, it’s an opportunity and those guys have done a great job of taking that opportunity and playing well,” said defensive end Rob Ninkovich. “That’s what football is about, taking opportunities that are in front of you and making the best of them.”

Pro Football Focus, a website that charts and grades players, noted that Ryan and Butler have better coverage grades than Revis, who is generally regarded as one of the best corners in the game. PFF had Ryan at a +9.5 and Butler at a +5.8. Revis was graded at +2.6.

Butler and Ryan have been credited with 14 pass breakups each, ranking 10th among NFL cornerbacks. Ryan has a team-high four interceptions and Butler has one. And Ryan also has a team-high four forced fumbles and is tied for second on the team with 68 tackles – and second with 50 unassisted tackles – while Butler is tied for fourth with 55 tackles.

Big things were expected this season of Butler, especially after his jaw-dropping interception secured the Patriots’ 28-24 win over Seattle in the Super Bowl.

In fact, Tom Brady recently told WEEI radio in Boston that he’s glad that he doesn’t have to throw against him.

“Malcolm is like a shadow,” said Brady. “He mirrors what the other receivers are doing.”

Ryan’s contributions, however, have been a surprise.

In recent games, he covered two of the top receivers in the NFL – Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins – and blanketed them.

Thomas, who has 88 catches this season, was targeted 13 times and had only one reception for 36 yards. Hopkins, who has 89 catches, had a season-low three receptions – getting only one catch on four targets with Ryan on him.

“I’ll take any challenge the coach gives me,” Ryan said. “I don’t look past any receiver because they know where they’re going and I don’t. I take my assignment for the week and do my homework.”

Coach Bill Belichick said that is a huge key to Ryan’s success.

“He studies the receivers,” said Belichick. “He has a good understanding of our defense and he really works hard at the preparation every week, so he has a good jump on what to expect.”

At 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, Ryan is able to take on bigger receivers and backs.

“Logan has got good strength, he’s a good tackler,” said Belichick. “He can get those backs and bigger receivers on the ground, good hands, good awareness, and he can play strong on the line of scrimmage.”

The two have had their ups and downs. Ryan gave up a late touchdown to Denver’s Andre Caldwell in an overtime loss. Butler gives up the occasional long pass and had some problems with Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown (who doesn’t?) and the Jets’ Eric Decker.

He saved the Patriots’ 27-26 victory over the New York Giants when he knocked the ball out of the hands of Odell Beckham Jr. in the end zone, negating a touchdown catch and forcing the Giants to kick a field goal that gave them a 26-24 lead that didn’t hold up.

Butler and Ryan don’t come off the field often. Butler has been on the field for 98.7 percent of the team’s defense snaps, Ryan 86.8 percent.

And they probably won’t come off the field much the rest of the way.

“The goal is to go out there and do the best you can and have fun,” said Butler. “You wouldn’t enjoy it as much if you didn’t have fun with it.”

Ryan said it’s nice to be recognized for their performances this year, but that they still have a lot to do.

“We just try to take it one day at a time and see how it goes,” said Ryan. “We’ve definitely made steps and strides since the beginning of the year, but that was our plan all along. It didn’t really matter what anyone thought of us because we believed in ourselves and the coaches believed in us.

“Now we’re at the point where we have to continue to prove that.”