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Saturday, August 14, 2010
Taking stock of the defense

By Mike Reiss

Two days after the Patriots' preseason opener against the Saints, a few thoughts on what has been learned about the Patriots' defense:

1. The 3-4 alignment remains the base. When in base packages, this is what the Patriots ran against the Saints. They also used a nickel (5 defensive backs) and dime package (6 defensive backs). There are no signs of the team switching to more four-man line, although that is part of the overall package.

2. They are loaded at defensive back. The Patriots currently have 16 defensive backs on the roster -- which ranks among the league leaders -- and 12 defensive backs played in the preseason opener. The competition is very good here and this will be an area other secondary-needy teams figure to scout closely when looking at the Patriots.

3. Brandon Spikes played 36 snaps. Just as the preseason opener was beneficial for rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, who played more snaps than any offensive skill-position players, the same was true for rookie inside linebacker Brandon Spikes. He started and played 31 first-half snaps, with five more in the second half. That's a promising sign for how the coaching staff views Spikes, getting him the early experience against top competition, then removing him late.

4. Breaking down the primary sub package. When the Patriots went to their dime package early, Spikes and defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Gerard Warren came off the field, with defensive lineman Myron Pryor, safety Brandon McGowan and cornerback Jonathan Wilhite coming on. While it could change when Leigh Bodden (knee) returns to health, that's a strong reflection on how the coaching staff views Wilhite in the cornerback competition.

5. Brandon Deaderick a rookie to watch. One of the trickle-down effects of Ty Warren being placed on season-ending injured reserve is that Gerard Warren moves to left end and Mike Wright becomes the primary right end. Because Wright is an important player on third down in a rush-type role, his snaps on early downs will be managed closely by the coaching staff so he doesn't wear down. As for who might provide some relief for Wright, the top backup Thursday was rookie Brandon Deaderick, a seventh-round draft choice out of Alabama. Deaderick was the only rookie defensive lineman to play in the first half, before playing throughout the second half.