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As the summer months move along, we are getting closer to the kick off of the 2012-2013 NFL season. The Patriots returned to the Super Bowl for the fifth time in the Belichick era this past season, only to lose a disappointingly once again to the New York Giants. Yes, those same New York Giants who ruined New England’s hopes of perfection in 2007/08.
The team has made some good looking moves in the off-season, especially by addressing some concerns on defense in this year’s draft. The chances for the Patriots to return to the postseason and even the Super Bowl are favorable, barring any unforeseen major injury, of course. As the season approaches, we at Sports of Boston will be previewing the positions, and we will start with the defensive line.
Ever since he was drafted on this team, Vince Wilfork has been the catalyst of the defensive line. He is a leader both on and off the field, and it is safe to say that as he goes so does the defense, especially the linemen.
Vince had another strong season in 2011-12. He played in all 16 games, as well as every game in the post season. Big Vince tallied 52 tackles, 3.5 sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and even recorded two interceptions. The numbers give a small glimpse at just how versatile the 6’2”, 325-pound nose tackle is. To grasp just how versatile and valuable he is, you need to watch him on the field. His importance to the team is more than just the amount of tackles he records, but the fact that he is such a force that he requires double teams from opposing offensive lines.
With so much focus on Vince, other members of the defense are given the opportunity to make plays. It’s no secret that over the years, Vince has also become a leader of the team. Alongside players like Tom Brady, Jerod Mayo, and Kevin Faulk, Vince keeps the team focused and his presence alone gives the team a chance to win. As long as Vince is on the defensive line, it almost doesn’t matter who plays along side of him because he will no doubt make them better just by lining up.
As talented as Wilfork is, he does require somebody to lineup along side. Throughout the Belichick tenure in New England the defensive line has always been looked at as a strength. For years, we were accustomed to the likes of Ty Warren, Richard Seymour, Ted Washington, and the failed Albert Haynesworth experiment. However, these names no longer play in New England and a new crop of players have effectively taken their place.
As always, Belichick will treat the defensive line as if it were a revolving door. The d-line position is usually one of the deepest on the roster because Belichick loves moving guys in and out to give them rest as well as give them the best chance to succeed.
Case and point is Mark Anderson from last season. Anderson primarily came in on passing situations solely to rush the passer. He recorded 10 sacks last season and was rewarded with a four-year, $27 million contract with the Bills.
Many of the same names from last season will be returning this year, which will make for strong competition in training camp as well as the preseason. Names you will recognize are Ron Brace, Brandon Deadrick, Gerard Warren, Kyle Love, Myron Pryor, and Mike Wright. Some of them dealt with injuries last season. Wright played only in the season opener, Pryor only played in two games, and Brace only in seven.
With all the depth at d-line, this will be a make-or-break year for guys like Pryor and Brace. Both were drafted with reasonably high expectations to be able to contribute consistently at the NFL level. Both have dealt with injuries and have never fully come into their own. With the signing of Jonathan Fanene from the Bengals, and the first round draft choice of Chandler Jones, the competition at d-line will be something to watch as training camp and preseason progress. Fanene provides another veteran on the line who can sub in and out and provide positive contributions. Jones comes to the team with expectations to make contributions immediately, as does every pick in the first round. Jones is an intimidating presence standing at 6’5”, and his weight of 260 pounds gives him the agility to come off the edge and rush the passer, as well as stop the run.
Every year critics claim the Patriots need to go after players who can rush the passer and disrupt opponents in the backfield, and this year they did exactly that. Jones will be fun to watch and hopefully he proves them right for drafting him in the first round.
Another key to watch out for is whether or not the Patriots sign Andre Carter. Carter is a 12-year veteran and was having a tremendous year for the Patriots last season before it ended abruptly due to a leg injury. Carter racked up 52 tackles and 10 sacks in 14 games for the Patriots. If he is brought back, it’s safe to say he will be a welcomed addition to the already deep defensive line.
However, if he isn’t signed, it may be because Belichick is confident with the younger players playing more minutes. Whether Carter returns or not, the Patriots defensive line is shaping up to be a strength on the team as well as provide for some intriguing competition throughout the preseason.
Tags: 2012 Patriots Preview, Andre Carter, Brandon Deadrick, Chandler Jones, Jerod Mayo, Jonathan Fanene, Kevin Faulk, Mark Anderson, Mike Wright, Myron Pryor, Patriots, Ron Brace, Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork