By: Bob George/BosSports.net
May 31, 2007

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Next installment of positional analysis for the 2006 New England Patriots. Today: defensive line.

Let's do it for Marquise, fellas.

In varying forms, that pretty much will be the mantra for the 2007 Patriot defensive line. Though the late Marquise Hill figured very non-prominently in the 2006 defensive line scheme of things, he will play a major role in the 2007 version. Most observers figured Hill was at the end of his days as a Patriot anyway. But Hill, who lost his life Sunday night in Louisiana in a jet ski accident, will be the spiritual leader for the Patriots and will inspire an already great group of linemen to higher levels in 2007.

And that could be terrible news for opposing offensive lines who have to play the Patriots.

It is terribly difficult to eulogize Hill properly if you bring up his Patriot career in the process. His Patriot career was marked with underachievement, and he figured to be a cut this year. Hill, who was a second round pick out of LSU in 2004, was labeled as a project, and a second unit lineman at best. He played in only 13 games as a Patriot and never really made his mark on the team.

Until Sunday night on Lake Ponchartrain.

Cast in a light everyone wishes they had known when he was still alive, Hill is a bona fide hero, not only to his female jet ski companion, but to many people in the area who have not yet recovered from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. Hill made several visits to his home turf and gave a lot of his money and time to help those in need. And the fact that he cared more about saving the woman's life rather than his own pretty much summed up how he lived his life: thinking of others first and foremost.

So add all this up, his heroic deeds and his now inspirational value, and he is the early favorite to be Patriot MVP for 2007. For if he can drive Ty Warren, Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork and fellow LSU Tiger Jarvis Green to play beyond their projected levels by his mere memory alone, you can only imagine what opposing offensive lines are in for.

Green, the top reserve behind the first round trio of starters, was a close friend of Hill's as well as a college classmate. Green is said to be brooding heavily over the loss of Hill. If he plays this season for his fallen Tiger teammate, he too will bring a lot to the table. He has been a top reserve for several years now (ask Peyton Manning if he knows who Green is), and knows the system very well. He can step in and spell the ends incredibly well. Green was tied for second on the team in total sacks, a remarkable stat for a non-starter.

Warren had his best season in 2006, to the point where at times observers were wondering if he would get the All-Pro distinction instead of Seymour. Warren was the most consistent lineman in 2006, and where he lacks the raw physical tools and the overall acumen of Seymour, he makes up for in work ethic and a hunger to learn the game and make himself better. He was second on the team in tackles and tied for second on the team in sacks (with Green).

Seymour made All-Pro anyway, and is still thought by most experts as the best at his position. Seymour put to rest any possible lingering quarrels with Bill Belichick and signed an extension through 2009. He draws a ton of double teams which inhibits better raw numbers, but makes life easier for Wilfork and the linebackers behind him. Seymour could perhaps have bigger sack numbers if he wanted to, but he plays within the system and values winning over personal stats. He is a rock in the locker room, a mature leader who should help his teammates get over the Hill tragedy as best as they can.

Yet Wilfork is perhaps the most indispensable of the three starters. The biggest reason is because he is the only Patriot who fits the size qualifications of nose tackle and has no viable backup. On the depth chart, Wilfork's backup is Mike Wright, who plays well but is a huge dropoff from Wilfork. The former Miami Hurricane has developed into a marvelous nose tackle, who is inching ever so closer to NFL top tier status. Wilfork is another one who eschews big numbers in lieu of tying up blockers down low, which is his primary job in the 3-4 scheme.

With Hill tragically out of the mix, all eyes will be focused on players like Wright, Le Kevin Smith and rookie Kareem Brown. Some folks thought Brown was going to replace Hill anyway, but no one wanted it to be the result of an accidental death. Smith was a 2006 draftee who played in only the last three games and has made literally no impact on the team as of yet. As mentioned earlier, Wright is at least a serviceable backup who can provide decent backup work, albeit not at the level of Green, but he won't be a total shrinking violet when he's in there.

If Smith is hurt once again, Santonio Thomas, who saw no live game action in 2007, might have a shot at making the roster. Otherwise, backup jobs are literally Green's, Wright's, Smith's and Brown's to lose. Brown was mentioned by some as being one of the big steals of the 2007 draft, and big things will be expected from the fourth round pick out of Miami.

Whatever happens, Patriot Nation will head for Louisiana this weekend to pay tribute to Hill and lay him to rest. Bob Kraft is planning to jet the entire team down to New Orleans for the funeral. Tears will flow, prayers will be prayed, and the team will fly back home and get back down to business.

But Hill will be heard from all season long. He will look down from wherever existence he happens to be at the moment, and do what he can to help his teammates. And his teammates, particularly his linemates, will listen and do what they do a little better than perhaps they otherwise would have.

Seymour may get another invite to Hawaii. But this is Marquise's line this year. If the Patriots prevail in Super Bowl XLII, give him the game ball.

Next installment: linebackers.


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