By: Bob George/BosSports.net
March 06, 2005

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Next in a series of positional analysis for the 2004 New England Patriots. Today: defensive line.

Richard Seymour may one day bolt the Patriots. And it won't be because of money.

Try lack of work.

Seymour's deal runs out in 2006. By then, the Patriots could be celebrating still another Super Bowl win, and Bill Belichick will have made NFL history by revolutionizing the way defense is played. Super Bowl XLI will be the unveiling of the revolutionary new 1-6-4 defensive alignment. Yes folks, Vince Wilfork or Ty Warren down low, with six linebackers around him and behind him. Seymour sits because he won't let Belichick convert him to linebacker.

We'll stop being kooky for now, but there's no guarantee Belichick will do the same. In the 29-28 loss to Miami on that strange Monday night in south Florida, Belichick showed exotic defensive fronts which was meant to confuse A.J. Feeley. It didn't work that night, as the Dolphins ran the ball and dumped over the middle against defensive alignments which featured zero defensive linemen (Willie McGinest was acting more like a linebacker), five linebackers and six defensive backs. But it did work in Super Bowl XXXIX, where two down linemen and five linebackers were plenty enough to confuse the Eagles and both stifle the running game and put pressure on Donovan McNabb.

If the Patriots get their house in order in the secondary and stop trying to concoct crazy ways to give players like Randall Gay, Earthwind Moreland, Troy Brown and Dexter Reid as much help as possible, you probably won't see any more exotic defensive line schemes anymore. It could be stated that the main reason Belichick went with these formations is because the secondary needed help, bereft of Ty Law and Tyrone Poole for most of the year. The acquisition of Duane Starks helps the cornerback position, and more help should follow.

So no, Seymour won't be complaining of lack of work. He may complain about lack of money, but that's another story.

The young line that everyone dreamed of back on Draft Day 2004, Warren, Wilfork and Seymour, took root in 2004 and showed that it is a force to be reckoned with. It was a line that by and large lived up to its vast promise, and it was a line which certainly made the linebacker corps look terrific by doing their jobs and letting the guys behind them make the plays.

All three linemen were first round picks. Wilfork was the new kid on the block, and despite some growing pains in the early going, showed that he does have a bright future in the league. He was one of those high quality guys the Patriots love to draft, one who will do whatever and play wherever the Patriots want him to play. Needing a two-gap 3-4 guy to replace Ted Washington, Wilfork learned the position and did generally a great job, helping the Patriots to surrender only four 100-yard rushers all season long.

A lot of credit for Wilfork's success has to go to Keith Traylor. The Patriots got him before they drafted Wilfork, and Tractor took the kid under his wing. Traylor was no slouch himself in 2004, having a decent season at a position where many people thought he would fail. Given his age and his being more of a 4-3 guy, Traylor surprised everyone by holding his own against the run. Wilfork was the starter come season's end, but Traylor had a great deal to do with the development of the rookie, as well as the team's success.

Warren began to play like a first rounder in 2004, after taking a year to learn the league and improve his technique. His playing time in 2004 increased exponentially, and while not being spectacular, he did a good job overall and played well enough to start every game this season as Bobby Hamilton's replacement. A lot is expected of a first round pick, and one area Warren might want to work on in 2005 is his sack total (3.5 sacks in 2004).

Seymour spent some time on the shelf in 2004, suffering an injury in the December Jets game and not playing again until the Super Bowl. In his absence, Jarvis Green stepped up and the defense never missed a beat. This development may have ramifications down the road when Seymour's deal is up and when it comes time to reconcile Green's contract (he was an RFA this year and was middle-tendered). Belichick may have a nasty decision coming up over which of these two guys to keep.

And it will be nasty. Seymour is thought of by many as the best defensive lineman in the NFL. How do you let him go? But if you keep him, how do you pay him and not wreck the cap? This is a guy who has been a bargain every year he has been in the league, and he is going to want to score a big payday with his next deal. If Belichick truly believes that the team will be fine with Green at right tackle instead of Seymour, Green could be locked up for several years for lots less than Seymour, and that might just happen.

The entire NFL stood up and took notice in the 2003 AFC Championship Game. Not at how badly Peyton Manning played, but at the three sacks registered by Green. As was learned after the fact, this was by design and some Patriot players knew going into the game that Green would have a banner game. Now, with his performance in the 2004 postseason to go along with his great day last January, is keeping Green more prudent than keeping Seymour? It's worth thinking over before you open Fort Knox to Seymour.

Adding depth to the defensive line next season will be Rodney Bailey and Marquise Hill. Bailey was injured in training camp and missed the entire season after being signed as a RFA from Pittsburgh. Hill was a 2004 draftee who got limited playing time as a rookie, but is still considered a decent prospect and, like Green, is a Nick Saban disciple from LSU.

Belichick has two years to make up his mind over Seymour. Nobody in his right mind would want to brush Seymour under the carpet, as he is arguably the best Patriot ever at his position. But Green will be under tremendous scrutiny over the next two seasons, and the direction of the defense for the foreseeable future hinges on how this scenario plays out.

At least you probably won't have to put up with 1-5-5 defensive alignments anymore. If the secondary doesn't need the extra help, terrific.

Next installment: linebackers.


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