NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
It’s not a stretch to say that throughout the first week of camp, the Patriots defensive line and edge rushers, have looked liked the best positional groupings so far.
The Patriots went out this off-season and added some youth, athleticism and versatility to the positions and so far it looks like its paying dividends. With the defensive front looking strong and extremely deep, what does that mean for Andre Carter? Have we seen the last of Carter in a Patriots uniform?
Prior to the start of training camp one of the biggest concerns regarding the Patriots is how are they going to improve their pass rush from last year. Especially after losing Mark Anderson via free agency and Andre Carter whose future is currently undetermined. It’s still very early in camp, but up to this point he results have been encouraging for the Patriots coaching staff.
Based on my time at practices the Patriots have rotated about 12 players throughout their top DT/DE/OLB positions in various capacities. It doesn’t look like the Patriots will have a dominant edge rusher, such as a Jared Allen or Jason Pierre-Paul, but what the Patriots will be able to do is create pressure collectively.
Let’s break it down player by player.
Trevor Scott - Scott came over from the Oakland Raiders in the off-season and looks fully recovered from a November 2010 ACL injury. Scott has been primarily lining up at LDE with the first team. Scott is tall and powerful. He has shown up a number of times in the backfield, beating OL with a combination of power and speed.
Kyle Love - Love has developed into a solid all around defensive tackle. He has a massive frame and good quickness for his size. Love is used mostly on first and second down, but has been able to push the pocket.
Vince Wilfork – Wilfork is the best interior defensive lineman the team has. Wilfork will demand double teams and will a deeper compliment of lineman Wilfork should be able to get more rest this season. While Wilfork isn’t known as a pass rusher, he’s one of the best in the league at 2-gapping and taking on blockers, which will be important again this year with the talented linebacker corps.
Rob Ninkovich - Ninkovich has lined up opposite Scott in most situations with the first team. Ninkovich’s ability to play OLB and DE make him a perfect fit for Belichick’s multiple front defense. While he is not as talented a pass rusher as a Mark Anderson or a Chandler Jones, Ninkovich is able to get to the QB with timing and smart blitzing.
Jermaine Cunningham - Perhaps no player has surprised more thus far in camp than Cunningham. He looks much better as a pass rusher, displaying a variety of pass rush moves including a quick and compact spin move which he has beat multiple lineman with. If Cunningham is rejuvenated and is able to provide pass rush in certain situations it will be huge for the defense.
Chandler Jones – Jones has looked as advertised so far. It hasn’t taken him long to work his way up the depth chart to the first team and lines up on the right side most of the time. Jones looks comfortable rushing from a stand up position and is able to convert his speed to power. Jones has already shown the ability to get the OT off balance and turn the corner. Jones looks much more fluid and sudden than he did on film in college. He has also been asked to “buzz” out and cover the flats and RBs out of the backfield which he has shown the ability to do as well.
Jonathan Fanane – Fanene rotates in for with Kyle Love or Vince Wilfork. Fanene’s strength is the first thing that stands out. He play’s primarily out of a 3 Technique, but also said the other day that he has been asked to “two gap” a lot. From what I have seen so far, Fanene will provide interior pass rush which is an area that really hurt the Patriots last year. Fanene has been paired with Deaderick inside and Cunningham/Jones as the ends, it’s been a package that’s been tough to block. Definitely one of the most disruptive unit’s thus far.
Brandon Deaderick – With the Patriots playing less and less 3 man fronts, Deaderick has played primarily inside at DT. Look for Deaderick to be one of the sub-package interior rushers. Once Deaderick returned from PUP last season, he provided some pass rush from his 3-4 DE position.
Jake Bequette – Bequette, the Patriots 3rd round pick this year, has been asked to play a number of different positions along the defensive line. Bequette’s best position is probably WDE where he can use his pass rush moves to push the pocket. While Bequette hasn’t done as well in 1 on 1s as Jones, he will likely be used as a situational rusher.
Ron Brace – Like Cunningham, Brace has shown up in shape and looks like a better player. For the first time in his NFL career Brace is actually healthy at the beginning of camp. Brace is a massive presence with good strength and surprising quickness. It’s too early to tell if he’s just flashing or if he has legitimately started to figure it out.
More defensive line analysis and what it means for Andre Carter can be found on page two.