- Mike Rodak, ESPN Staff Writer
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When the NFL expanded offseason rosters to 90 players last month, it gave teams an opportunity to fill out their rosters with a few extra players. Unsigned draft choices, which were not included in the previous 80-man limit, are now part of the 90-player threshold.
With the Patriots adding seven players in the 2012 draft, the increased roster limit allowed them to add three additional players. What the team decided to do with those extra spots may be telling.
The Patriots currently have 27 defensive front seven players on their roster, which as of Friday was the most of any NFL team.
Besides devoting three of their top four draft choices, including two first-round picks, to the front seven, the Patriots also brought back defensive tackle Gerard Warren after the draft, and then added defensive tackle Marcus Forston (Miami) and defensive end Justin Francis (Rutgers) as undrafted free agents.
The result is 33 percent -- one-third -- of the currently 89-man roster dedicated to the defensive front seven.
The Patriots' secondary has been much maligned over recent seasons, but with the squad now taking shape, it is the defensive line and linebacker positions that have been stocked with personnel and are ready for competition come July. This despite the front seven remaining largely intact since Super Bowl XLVI, absent, most notably, the loss of Mark Anderson to the Bills and the ongoing free agency of Andre Carter.
It is worth noting that the Patriots' influx of personnel additions in recent months has affected other positions, such as wide receiver. However, the team announced on Thursday that Pepper Johnson (now linebackers) and Patrick Graham (now defensive line) had switched roles as position coaches, returning Johnson to the group that he coached in two Super Bowls last decade.
While the reasoning behind the swap is not known, it is further attention given to a unit that head coach Bill Belichick has appeared to put under the microscope this offseason.