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Bruce Allen takes a look at the defensive line for Patriots Daily, with an opinion on each of the eleven players in training camp: Wilfork, Warre, Warren, Wright, Lewis, Pryor, Brace, Deaderick, Weston, Richard, and Love.
This group isn’t as good as it was a couple of seasons ago, but still has to be considered among the top units in the league. With Wilfork and Warren starting to get up there in age, it is imperative to develop younger linemen who can come in a contribute. Ron Brace might be the most important in that category. If he can develop into a guy who can spell Wilfork as well as play an end position, it will be a huge boost. Gerard Warren and Lewis provide some veteran stability and experience, giving the youngsters time to develop.
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Tom Curran sees Vince Wilfork and then a whole lot of "serviceable" players on the defnsive line in this piece for Comcast SportsNet. He does note that Ty Warren was hindered by both high and low ankle sprains last year, and the DL includes four former-first-round draft picks among their talent. In summary he considers the unit to be a bit of a question mark that could make or break this year's team.
No place on the Patriots roster has more highly-drafted talent. Wilfork, Ty Warren, newly-added Gerard Warren and Damione Lewis were all first rounders drafted 21st, 13th, third and 12th respectively. Then you have hard-working Mike Wright, surprisingly adept Myron Pryor, 2009 second-rounder Ron Brace and two new draftees Brandon Deaderick and Kade Weston.
That’s a whole lot of talent.
Yet the lasting image of the defensive line over the past six months – and the defense as a whole – is the first play from scrimmage in the playoff game against the Ravens. That little ditty was when Ray Rice went untouched for 83 yards and a touchdown. A parade float could have been driven through the hole created.
. . .
There’s not a position group on this team that isn’t vital to the team’s overall success. But defensive line – along with quarterback and offensive line – is one of those make or break spots. You can’t muddle along and still be if the DL doesn’t perform.
The Colts' Jeff Saturday ranks Vince Wilfork as the second toughest defensive tackle he has to face. Saturday places the Ravens' Haloti Ngata at number one, the Jets' Kris Jenkins third, the Cowboys' Jay Ratliff number four, and has a three-way tie at number five between the Vikings' Kevin Williams, the Redskins' Albert Haynesworth, and the Titans' Tony Brown.
"I've played this guy on a ton in my career. He makes the Patriots defense go. Nobody talks about him. He's a great run stuffer, but he can also get great push against the play-action pass, and he's a smart player who really helps his linebackers really shine in that defense."
The Boston Globe's Shalise Manza Young takes a look at the Pats' defensive line and questions how the Pats have filled Richard Seymour's role. She sees the three biggest factors as being Ron Brace's progression, how much Gerard Warren has left, and how much the Pats might use the 4-3.
So on the field, that leaves Mike Wright, Gerard Warren and Brace as top contenders to take the starting role opposite Ty Warren. Wright has played every role on the line since arriving in New England, and is a steady contributor. Gerard Warren was drafted ahead of Seymour in 2001, and started all 32 games over the last two years for Oakland; during mini-camp,he was with Wilfork and Ty Warren, though of course things can change. This spring, Brace candidly said that he simply wasn't prepared last year for the mental rigors of being in the NFL, adding that he has put in a lot of work to learn the ins and outs of the Patriots' playbook and has watched film for hours.
Richard Hill of Pats Pulpit thinks Gerard Warren will beat out Damione Lewis for one of the final defensive line spots on the roster. In his opinion Lewis doesn't really fit in at DE, while DT is filled with Wilfork, Brace pryor and Wright. Hill thinks G Warren will be the #2 RDE - and that either Deaderick or Weston will emerge as an able, every down player.
Past Role: In all of his stints with his prior teams, Warren was utilized as a 4-3 Defensive Tackle, which translates well to the 3-4 Defensive End spot. He has never been a sack monster, but he has the ability to apply pressure and get near the opposing quarterback. He has great size for a 3-4 DE, standing at 6-4, 300 lbs, but he is unproven in the 3-4 defense.
Recently, he has been mediocre, if not "bad", against the run, but has provided solid defense when rushing the quarterback.
Predicted Role: Judging by Warren's strengths, he won't be an every down defensive end for the Patriots. His versatility will allow him to remain on the field for both the 3-4 and 4-3 strategies, but the Patriots need someone who can stop the run from the RDE position. Warren will be a rotational player in the defense.
More and more folks are seeing G. Warren replacing Green on the roster.
So we have the four W's and Brace, our backup NT.
How solid are these five? One major question is the durability of Ty Warren.
What additional roles need to be met in the additional roster positions?
We need an addition DT, presumably either Lewis or Pryor, or perhaps even both. One would give us the same roster depth as in 2009. I have no clue as to why Pryor is considered a lock over Lewis.
We could use a developmental DE or even two. It seems that our 7th rounders are destined for the Practice Squad. We didn't NEED an additional DE last year. Besides, all the OLB's play DE in certain formations. Burgess played DE in more defensive reps than did Ty Warren!!!!! The reality is that we have lots of DE's.
BOTTOM LINE FOR ME
The question for me is whether we keep both Lewis and Pryor, giving us seven DL's. My choice would be to keep six as we did last year, expecting more reps from Brace. My sixth would be whoever wins the competition between Lewis and Pryor. If Pryor lose, he may bring us a late round draft choice.
Battle lines -- Both Warren and Lewis were veteran pickups during the offseason. Both were first-round draft choices in the Richard Seymour draft in 2001. Warren was taken third overall, Seymour sixth, and Lewis 12th. Both are vying for his old job at right defensive end. Both are transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense and have shown to be tough and physical enough to handle the job. Of the two, Lewis is quicker and more adept at getting to the quarterback. One or both should be able to contribute and, at the very least, improve an area of weakness from last season.
Subplot -- Mike Wright, the jack of all trades on the defensive line, spent considerable time at end last year along with the now departed Jarvis Green, who joined Denver via free agency. Wright will be in the mix, but seems more suited to subbing in for Ty Warren at left tackle, or Vince Wilfork on the nose.
I think this defense has a lot to prove based on the way they were manhandled by the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs last year. One of the big questions is whether Gerard Warren can be that five-technique defensive end that the run-defense can count on. We saw the Ravens run away from Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork, coming down over and over again on Jarvis Green and Mike Wright. The Patriots saw that, moved Wilfork to end, and then the Ravens responded by running up the middle. That was an example of a team exploiting a weakness in the 3-4 defense, and I think that five-technique defensive end opposite Ty Warren was the weakest link along the defensive line. If you don't have a d-lineman that can anchor and take on blocks in this defense the way the Patriots play it, the linebackers will be helpless against linemen who have unabated angles on the second level, and the outside linebackers will have too much space to defend. In the 3-4 defense, the most valuable players are those guys up front. If Gerard Warren, Ron Brace, Damione Lewis, Mike Wright etc. can't be that one guy to solidify that three-man front, it's going to be a long year.
I like Bruschi's insight and analysis, even when it is painful to hear or read.
“A lot of people were talking about how I fit the 3-4 scheme, like the Patriots. And when I worked out for them we were in the classroom doing work on the board and I was picking up stuff pretty good,” Weston said. “We went outside and did stuff. We connected and I felt it wouldn’t be a bad fit. They seemed impressed. They were also impressed by my performance at our Pro Day.”
An interior tackle in Georgia’s scheme, Weston projects as a five-technique 3-4 end in New England. Interestingly, it’s a positional hole on the Patriots depth chart since the team traded another former Bulldogs alum, Richard Seymour, last summer. Both players were coached by Randy Garner at Georgia, and though entering the NFL polar opposites on the prospect spectrum, Weston plans to reach out to his Bulldog brother.
While the loss of Green is big, the Patriots did bulk up their defensive line by adding free agents Warren and Lewis, both former 2001 first-round draft picks. They will be competing for the starting job with Mike Wright, who started nine games last year for the Pats, and Ron Brace, though Lewis is much better suited to playing as an interior lineman than an end, and Brace underperformed last year. Wright showed last season that he could start as a defensive end. He has been a steady contributor during his time in New England. Warren started all 32 games over the last two years for Oakland, so it will likely be either Wright or Warren starting alongside left end Ty Warren and nose tackle Vince Wilfork in the Pats’ base 3-4 defense.