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In 2010, injuries decimated the Patriots defensive line. Only Vince Wilfork and Gerard Warren played in all 16 games last season.
Eight different defensive lineman cracked the starting lineup for New England, with Landon Cohen, Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick being called into action because of injuries to the Patriots core starters.
Despite being shorthanded, the Patriots finished around the middle of the pack in sacks (14th), rushing yards per game (11th), rushing yards per carry (13th), and rushing yards allowed (6th). But, it was the defensive line’s ineffectiveness late in the season that called for an upgrade this off-season. After Thanksgiving, the Patriots regressed as a unit and allowed 152, 143, 125 and 120 yards on the ground to the New York Jets, Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills and Jets (again) respectively.
Little time has been wasted in trying to improve the unit from a year ago.
In the first week of free agency, after the four-month NFL lockout, the Patriots signed former Washington Redskin Albert Haynesworth along with releasing both Ty Warren and Marcus Stroud (who the Patriots signed in March). Haynesworth brings not only enormous — in the literal sense — potential, but enormous risk to a stable Patriots team. The one-time highest paid defensive player in NFL history (7 years, $100 million, $41 million guaranteed) has become the laughing stock of the league after an unproductive stint in Washington.
Before his arrival in February 2009, Haynesworth was quoted by the Associated Press claiming he would live up to high expectations that his contract demanded.
“You’re not going to remembered Albert Haynesworth as a bust,” he said. “My goal is to be the best player on the field and to eventually get to that Hall of Fame status and be mentioned with Reggie White and Bruce Smith.”
The former menace for Tennessee will have the opportunity to turn his career back around under Bill Belichick. But, Belichick didn’t stop there.
The Patriots re-signed Gerard Warren, who had 28 tackles last season, signed 28-year-old Mark Anderson, and Haynesworth’s former teammate, Andre Carter. Carter, 32, is just two seasons removed from an 11.5 sack season but was inconsistent in 2010.
With all the signings along the defense line, the Patriots also made news for who they released.
Ty Warren, like Haynesworth, will look to do bounce back from poor play — with a different team. Warren, a 2003 first round pick out of Texas A&M, fell off after signing a 5-year $36 million contract in 2009. That season Warren made 33 tackles and just one sack before missing the entire 2010 season with a hip injury.
With a wealth of young talent, paired with Wilfork and Haynesworth in the middle, watch for the Patriots to man a 4-3 defense to use the talent on hand.
The second-year player from the University of Alabama should see an expanded role for the Patriots. As a seventh round pick, Deaderick played in 10 games, with four starts, and recorded 10 tackles and two sacks. With injuries to Warren and Mike Wright, Deaderick stepped into the starting lineup and was more than serviceable — despite a low statistical output.
Deaderick did run into some trouble late last season He was suspended by the Patriots, which lasted less than a week after Wright was placed on injured reserve, making Deaderick eligible for the AFC Divisional playoff game against the Jets.
Look for the 6’4″ 305-pound Deaderick to improve from last season and outperform Myron Pryor, Love and Cohen for playing time in 2011.
In 22 games, Brace has 31 tackles and has yet to record a sack. Those aren’t the numbers you expect from the 40th overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft. The hometown prospect has been given many opportunities to take that next step in Foxboro, but time-after-time he hasn’t risen to the challenge.
The big knock on Brace coming out of Boston College was that he wasn’t even the best defensive lineman on his team. His counterpart at Chestnut Hill, and current Green Bay Packer, B.J. Raji handled double teams in college and Brace benefited, with 27 tackles and three sacks as a senior. With the two not playing along side one another Raji has continued to flourish, while Brace has been labeled a bust entering his third season.
With a deep — albeit average — crop of youngsters on the roster, Brace’s spot on this team is in jeopardy.
There isn’t many better than Wilfork in this league. In 2010, Big Vince recorded 57 tackles and two sacks — the second highest amount of tackles in his career. But, it’s Wilfork’s versatility that helped the Patriots win games last season.
When asked Wilfork, a primary (by all definitions) nose tackle, kicked to the outside to help a position that lacked depth. The results? The same ol’ Wilfork. Although, opposing teams didn’t have to fear the 325-pounder in the middle, they were hesitant to run it outside the tackles. Now, with Haynesworth in the mix and a more 4-3 defensive approach, Wilfork will stay inside.
The ultimate team player, husband and dad, Wilfork is the prototypical Patriots player. Still under 30, look for Wilfork to continue his dominance and etch his name as one of the best defensive lineman in the NFL today.
On Team: Mark Anderson, Andre Carter, Brandon Deaderick, Albert Haynesworth, Kyle Love, Eric Moore (LB/hybrid), Marques Murrell (LB/hybrid), Myron Pryor, Gerard Warren, Vince Wilfork, Mike Wright
Not on Team: Ron Brace, Landon Cohen, Christian Cox, Aaron Lavarias, Clay Nurse, Alex Silvestro, Kade Weston, Steve Williams, Darryl Richard
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