By: Bob George/BosSports.net
February 14, 2003

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Next in a series of positional analysis for the 2002 New England Patriots. Today: Defensive line.

Guess it won't matter much anymore if Richard Seymour likes the 4-3 over the 3-4, or vice versa.

Word broke recently that the Patriots were considering moving their All-Pro defensive tackle to end for 2003. The move is predicated upon taking advantage of his speed, whereby the thinking is that he will morph into a monster pass rusher. It is nothing short of a major decision regarding one of the cornerstones of the Patriot defense, and if it does come to pass, it may alter the draft strategy completely come April.

There are arguments for and against this move, albeit pleasant arguments and issues which fall into the category of "good problems". By moving him to end, you have the potential to unleash a frightening pass rusher, or you at least tie up enough blockers on his side so that you get a better push up the middle. In any case, especially given Willie McGinest's age, the move makes sense.

But what about the original plan of drafting a massive inside linemate for Seymour? Many people believe that the reason Seymour had seemingly a sub-par 2002 versus his good rookie season (which makes his All-Pro selection this year somewhat surprising) was the fact that he had Steve Martin next to him. Martin, a free agent pickup in the offseason, was a major disappointment in 2002, and wound up getting cut late in the season after making controversial remarks in the press.

If nothing else, it showed that the Patriots perhaps made a mistake in letting Brandon Mitchell leave as a free agent. Martin's poor play enabled offensive linemen to double up on Seymour, thereby choking off his ability to stop the run and provide a push to help collapse the pocket. Seymour enjoyed a good rookie season with Mitchell next to him for the most part. Drafting a down lineman with the first pick who will provide a nice compliment to Seymour was the choice of this column as to how to spend the 14th draft pick this year.

As this year's positional analysis has completed its look at the offense, we now move into areas where high draft picks are literally mandatory. Few people can disagree that, despite the needs at linebacker and cornerback, defensive line needs the most attention in the 2003 draft. Bill Belichick has said that his defense needs to get younger, and he could not be more right.

Seymour is the only young'un among graybeards like McGinest, Anthony Pleasant and Bobby Hamilton. Of these three men, Pleasant is the most likely to not see starting action in '03. "B-Ham" might have one and maybe two more years left in him; while he is definitely past his prime, he is a solid Belichick guy with still a bit more to offer a defense.

McGinest is complicated, and his future is at best uncertain. According to PatsFans.com's capologist Miguel Benzan, McGinest's cap figure for 2003 is $10.5 million, the highest on the team. About half of that is roster bonus money. McGinest will either get a new deal or a new team. Recently, McGinest stated that he would like to finish his career as a Patriot, and the team is not hostile to that idea despite a dropoff in production in a year where he remained uncharacteristically healthy. The smart thinking here is that these two sides will reach some sort of deal to keep the ten-year Patriot here in Foxborough for the rest of his career.

Like Martin, Rick Lyle came over from the Jets last offseason. And like Martin, he proved to be a very small factor in the overall scheme of things. Lyle does not figure in the team's plans for 2003. Bernard Holsey also saw action in '02, but he only played in eight games and is not someone Belichick is going to build the future of the defensive line around.

One player the Patriots should keep their eye on for '03 is 2002 draftee Jarvis Green. If the Super Bowl meant anything to Patriot Nation, it showed that the Patriots gave up on Greg Spires way too soon. Green was used sparingly in certain situations, but in the abstract simply could not crack the veteran lineup. That should change in '03 if Belichick is sincere about his desire for his defense to get younger. Green did start four games for the Patriots in '02 and registered 2 ½ sacks for the season. He showed a decent upside, and should get a long look for next year.

This column will go more in depth on the draft in the days ahead. But unless Belichick is overcome with some demonic force that tells him to draft another three tight ends this year, at least two of the first three draft picks need to be spent in this area, if not the top two. Whatever ails the Patriot offense, nothing in that area will matter if the Patriots are exposed once again as an old and slow defensive unit who simply cannot compete against the NFL's best offenses.

Stopping the run and generating a decent pass rush are perhaps Priority One and Priority Two for the '03 Patriots. Whatever Belichick decides to do must address these two areas. Pleasant, Lyle and Holsey aren't what this team needs. Unfortunately, you might eventually have to add McGinest and Hamilton to that list, but maybe not this year.

Simply stated, the entire 2003 draft strategy of the Patriots may hinge on Seymour and where they decide to play him.

And if he does wind up as an outside pass rusher, the Patriots certainly hope that that is the end to their defensive problems.

Next installment: Linebackers.


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