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Last season, if this happened, Mike Wright would have likely filled in for the injured pro-bowler as the team would still have Ty Warren and Richard Seymour on the outside in their 3-4 defense. Well, in 2009, with the Patriots employing a 4-3 defense, the Patriots had two options. Go with Worcester, Ma. native Ron Brace, or fellow rookie Myron Pryor.
Bill Belichick and the coaching staff went with Pryor.
The 2009 sixth-round draft pick from the University of Kentucky may not be a name many Patriots fans recognize, but he has been a pleasant surprise ever since he came to Foxboro in May. Pryor was the 207th player taken in a draft where the Patriots added three defensive lineman. At Kentucky, Pryor was named second team all-SEC after a 29-tackle, 4.5-sack campaign as a senior. Even with an impressive senior season for the Wildcats, Pryor fell to the sixth round as many teams were turned off by his limited size and questionable burst off the line of scrimmage.
Still, the Patriots took a flier on Pryor and thus far it has paid off. Seemingly going unnoticed, Pryor had himself a terrific pre-season and his hard work has translated into the regular season. With Wilfork sidelined, Pryor was thrusted into action and did a more than manageable job. The Patriots defense allowed a mere 31 rushing yards since Pryor took over with 7:31 remaining in the second quarter. Individually, Pryor recorded three tackles.
Whether it has been receiver Julian Edelman or now Pryor, the Patriots are getting significant reps by these late round draft choices. Belichick is relying on Edelman, after he beat out Minnesota Vikings hero Greg Lewis, and Pryor, who took the reigns as the backup defensive tackle over the otherwise highly touted Brace.
Although Wilfork’s injury and the status of it remain unknown, the Patriots should feel confident with Pryor. Obviously Pryor will not play up to the level of Wilfork, but not many players in this league can. The fact of the matter is this organization now knows that they have a formidable backup defensive lineman.
The old saying, “everything happens for a reason,” may hold true with this whole situation. Wilfork’s injury helped Pryor gain valuable reps as the rookie has instilled confidence in the coaching staff. Meanwhile, Wilfork’s injury doesn’t appear to be serious and he should play sooner rather than later. Having Pryor rotate with Wilfork throughout the game will only be beneficial to the defense moving forward.
Who would have thought that the 207th player taken in the 2009 NFL Draft would contribute in such a consistent fashion, like he has been doing?