Exploring some DL thoughts

May, 17, 2013
5/17/13
9:50
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The Patriots have parted ways with a pair of defensive tackles in recent days, as both Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick are now Jaguars. The team also released Myron Pryor earlier this offseason, and Ron Brace was let go near the end of the 2012 season.

That means that, in essence, four of the team's projected top five defensive tackles from last offseason (we didn't know that Pryor's injury would keep him out for all of 2012) are no longer on the roster.

The Love release obviously involved more than just his on-field ability, as he was recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, leading the Patriots to designate the transaction under the Non-Football Injury/Illness clause.

But examining the string of transactions from a purely football perspective, the question is where the Patriots stand at the position now.

To start, here's a projected defensive tackle depth chart:

Vince Wilfork
Tommy Kelly
Armond Armstead
Marcus Forston
Cory Grissom
Dewayne Cherrington
Joe Vellano

We know Wilfork will anchor one spot along the defensive line, with Kelly expected to play a big role as well (though he's 32, he's started 80 straight games over the past five seasons). If Armstead pans out like his ability suggests, some believe he could be a three-down defensive lineman that can provide pass-rushing ability. Forston was a surprise to make the 53-man roster coming out of training camp in 2012, but that serves as a reflection of the team's view that he could develop into a factor for the defense. After spending most of the year on the practice squad, he was re-promoted late in the year to the active roster, in part because of his ability to play in goal-line defensive packages.

So while the Patriots have thinned the position of familiar faces, they still have, at least on paper, potential depth at the position (one of the undrafted rookies could turn out to be a diamond in the rough as well).

Another component to this discussion is how these players fit into the variety of fronts that the Patriots run. While the base defense featured a four-man defensive line last year, the team played roughly 57 percent of its snaps in sub packages, where players like Love and Deaderick were less commonly used. In addition, the Patriots featured three-man fronts last year in which they flexed defensive end Rob Ninkovich out to a stand-up outside linebacker alignment.

Kelly's versatility was one of the traits that made him attractive to the Patriots, and he can be used as both a nose and 3-technique in four-man fronts and an end in three-man fronts, flanking Vince Wilfork (Chandler Jones would be the other end in this alignment). Given the depth the Patriots have at linebacker, they have the ability to mix and match personnel in 3-4 fronts.

The defensive line was a solid group on the whole last year for the Patriots, but the run defense struggled down the stretch after a hot start to the season. That could also have played a part in the team's decision to cut ties with certain defensive tackles, as there was room for improvement on the interior of the line next to Wilfork.

With several familiar faces gone and a host of newcomers now on deck, this will be a position group worth monitoring as the season approaches.
Field Yates has previous experience interning with the New England Patriots on both their coaching and scouting staffs. A graduate of Wesleyan University (CT), he is a regular contributor to ESPN Boston's Patriots coverage and ESPN Insider.

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