- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Kelly and a new look along the D-line. The potential release of Kelly was foreshadowed in mid-July, so the move doesn't come as a major surprise. When you're 33 years old, coming off a torn ACL, and accept a reduced contract from the team in the offseason, it reflects a situation that is anything but a sure-fire lock. Part of what makes it a mild surprise is that Kelly had been running with the first-unit defense in training camp and the preseason, but this is a reminder that what we've seen to this point probably won't resemble what unfolds in the regular season. The Patriots almost certainly will run multiple fronts in the regular season, not just the vanilla 3-4 alignment we've seen to this point. After captain Vince Wilfork and stalwart end-of-the-line players Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Dont'a Hightower, the Patriots have plenty of versatile, younger players along the line to mix and match combinations in players such as Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones, Dominique Easley, Michael Buchanan, Zach Moore, and perhaps Joe Vellano and Jerel Worthy, among others.
Smith still has something to offer. I still think the 33-year-old Smith, who carried himself with a classy touch and brought a level of professionalism to the club, has something to offer as a power rusher off the edge in nickel situations. He just never really got the chance to do that in games with the Patriots, so I'd imagine he leaves with a bit of an empty feeling in the sense that he was never really put in a position to maximize his assets. Perhaps not winning enough 1-on-1s in training camp practice was part of the reason why that was the case, but injuries to others on the defensive line that thinned depth was probably also part of it. If Smith was to make the club, it would have been as a nickel rusher who didn't factor into the special teams mix. The Patriots obviously didn't see enough value to follow through with that, but as noted above, it's not like they don't have plenty of other options on the line of scrimmage.
Anderson's niche role would have been a luxury. The 31-year-old Anderson, who excels as a coverage linebacker, should also find a home elsewhere, especially given some of the injuries at linebacker across the NFL. But after reviewing Friday's game against the Panthers, the fact that Jamie Collins, Steve Beauharnais, James Morris and Ja'Gared Davis took the majority of reps at the off-the-line linebacker spots while Jerod Mayo was sidelined with injury was the first indication that Anderson might not be secure on the roster. With Beauharnais, Morris and Davis in mind, the Patriots probably feel they can layer their roster and/or practice squad with enough depth behind Mayo and Collins to account for what Anderson would have brought the team. Anderson's release could also mean good news for the prospects of Darius Fleming, who could back up at both on-the-line and off-the-line spots. Fleming was more of a special teams contributor than Anderson, which also could be part of the consideration.