NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
Throughout Bill Belichick’s tenure as Head Coach in New England the Patriots have boasted one of the best defensive lines in the league. However, over the past few seasons that defensive line has been in a state of transition both personnel wise and schematically.
This off-season the team made a concerted effort to add youthful talent to the line through the draft. It was also a priority to sign cost effective free agents who could be integrated into the Patriots defensive front for the foreseeable future. These personnel moves resulted in creating an abundance of talent both young and old at defensive tackle and end positions.
How is the defensive line depth chart shaping up for the regular season?
Current Roster (15): Jake Bequette (DE), Ron Brace (DE), Brandon Deaderick (DE), Jonathan Fanene (DE), Marcus Forston (DL), Justin Francis (DE), Marcus Harrison (DT), Chandler Jones (DE), Aaron Lavarias (DL), Kyle Love (DT), Myron Pryor (DT), Trevor Scott (DE), Alex Silvestro (DE/TE), Gerard Warren (DT), Vince Wilfork (NT)
What To Watch For: How good is Chandler Jones and how much of an impact can he make as a rookie? Are the Patriots using more of a 4-3 or 3-4 defensive front? Who is going to replace the sacks of Mark Anderson and Andre Carter? Will Ron Brace finally do something? Will the team sign Andre Carter before the end of camp? Can Kyle Love take the next step and become one of the best interior DL in the league?
Bubble Watch: Ron Brace (DE), Myron Pryor (DT), Alex Silverston (DE), Justin Francis (DE), Marcus Forston (DL)
Who Makes the Final 53: Chandler Jones (DE), Kyle Love (DT), Vince Wilfork (NT), Jake Bequette (DE), Jonathan Fanene (DE), Brandon Deaderick (DE), Trevor Scott (DE), Gerard Warren (DT). The last roster spot assuming the Patriots keep nine DL will come down to Myron Pryor who is never healthy or Ron Brace who has never done anything.
Explanation and Breakdown:
Vince Wilfork is the un disputed leader of the defensive line and one of the best nose tackles in the NFL. Wilfork is coming off a playoffs where he was unblockable at times. Kyle Love played next to Wilfork most of the time last season and has developed into a very good player. He was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Mississippi State and has worked his way into being a key cog in the middle of the defensive line. Love will be on the roster and should have an even bigger role in the defense this year.
The Patriots traded up aggressively in the first round to select Chandler Jones. Expectations will be incredibly high for Jones. How quickly he develops into a contributing pass rusher will likely have an impact on how good this defense can become.
Jake Bequette was the teams third round selection and is a polished pass rusher, so his spot on the team looks secure as well.
Jonathan Fanene, who New England signed to a three year contract during the off-season, has a secure roster spot. Fanene can contribute as an interior pass rusher and will likely play a role similar to what Mike Wright has done in the past.
Another key off-season signing for the Patriots was Trevor Scott. Even though Scott had somewhat of a down year as he recovered from ACL surgery last season. The team will be counting on Scott to fill the pass rush void that was created when Mark Anderson signed with Buffalo. Scott was on his way to becoming one of the best young pass rushers in the league when he tore his ACL late in the 2010 season. How he responds this year will be vital to the Patriots pass rush.
Brandon Deaderick who started last season on PUP, proved that he can be a contributor when healthy. Deaderick became a stater down the stretch last season, recording 17 tackles and 2.0 sacks. Deaderick will be on the team, unless an UDFA beats him out. Gerard Warren’s spot on the team should also be secure. Despite his age he has played at a high level along side Vince Wilfork. He is a smart player who fits what Bill Belichick does on defense perfectly. He is still one of the better run-stuffers in the league.
If the Patriots decide to keep more than eight defensive linemen the battle for the last roster spot will come down to Myron Pryor, Ron Brace and a group of rookie and second year undrafted free agents. Pryor may have the inside edge because he has looked pretty good when he is one the field, the problem is he is never on the field. Pryor was also missing during mini-camp and maybe a candidate to start the seaon on the PUP list.
This is a make or break camp for Ron Brace. If he can’t beat out Pryor or another DL his days as a Patriot are likely over. Marcus Harrison could be in the mix for the 9th DL spot as well. He made a brief appearence in Foxboro last year when injuries struck and was resigned this off-season. I’m not sure what the team sees in him, but he’s someone to keep an eye on in camp.
The Patriots will have an intriguing group of rookies whom they signed after the draft this year. I’d expect both Marcus Forston and Justin Francis to be on the practice squad if they don’t make the 53 man roster outright. Both players are talented and easily could have been drafted if not for injuries.
Alex Silvestro and Aaron Lavarias both spent time on the practice squad last year and were even called up to the active roster at the end of the season. However, both players lack upside and won’t make the team if everyone remains healthy.