Commentary

Patriots have big plans for defensive line

Updated: August 8, 2011, 11:04 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New rule in training camp for the rest of the month: The defensive linemen's mid-morning position meetings absolutely cannot finish before any other group's. Otherwise, no one stands a chance at the lunch spread.

The Patriots continued to beef up their defensive front on Monday, officially signing veteran free agents Shaun Ellis, Andre Carter and Gerard Warren. That's roughly 19 feet and 900 pounds of humanity that New England just plunked into an already super-sized positional group.

[+] EnlargeVince Wilfork
Stew Milne/US PresswireVince Wilfork will have a lot of newcomers to break in on the Patriots' revamped defensive line.

The Patriots now have 21 linemen on their 90-man roster, nine ends and 12 tackles, all competing for the seven or so spots that figure to be allotted for defensive linemen on New England's roster for the season opener Sept. 12 in Miami.

Belichick will start trimming the fat with roster cutdowns on Aug. 30 (75 players) and take another swipe when rosters shrink to 53 players on Sept. 3.

Add in defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, acquired last month via trade with the Washington Redskins, and the Patriots have brought in four veteran players with a combined 204.5 career sacks and four Pro Bowls between them. This on a defensive line that already features three-time Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork.

It's clear the Patriots have an area of focus. But do they have a plan?

"I don't think our defensive philosophy will change, but how we align and how we handle the responsibilities, that could definitely change by game plan or by what we feel are our strengths and weaknesses and how to best deploy our players," coach Bill Belichick said. "How, strategically, we want to move guys around and put them in certain alignments … I think there is flexibility there."

Flexibility might be the key word. Belichick is buying darts in bulk and firing away at his own tried-and-true playbook in an attempt to see what sticks in a compressed training camp. Even after a 14-2 season, the pass rush remains the biggest target for pundits, particularly after the Patriots' early playoff exit, and Belichick is taking sizable measures to ensure increased productivity from that group.

Carter likes what the Patriots are building, particularly after laboring through 10 seasons split between San Francisco and Washington, and enjoying only three winning seasons, including just one in the past eight years.

"This is a team that's headed in the right direction," Carter said after his first practice session with the team Monday. "They have a great group of guys, veteran leadership. And it's all about one thing, one goal. That's to go out there and grind, day-by-day, week-by-week. The journey is never easy, but you have to find a way to get it done."

Asked about the assemblage of talent and whether there's room for everyone on the field, Ellis said: "That's the goal, going in each and every week: Go out there and play our best every week. Go after the quarterback and cause a lot of havoc. Hopefully we're able to get that done."

In order for that to happen, there are questions that need to be answered (including what's up with Haynesworth, who has missed the past three practice sessions). Also chief among those queries is who will wind up on the roster and how will the talent be deployed.

When he was released at the start of camp, Ty Warren hinted that Belichick was ready to throw a changeup this season.

"When I heard about the different defensive deals they're going to be doing, I didn't see me in that big picture of things, or at least not a huge role in that deal," Warren admitted last month while suggesting a departure from the 3-4 alignment was coming.

For their part, the new arrivals are saying all the right things regarding whatever style New England ends up utilizing. Carter shrugged and said it didn't matter to him. Ellis said he's played in six different schemes during his career (even if he quietly suggested he was most comfortable in a 4-3) and added, "I feel like I can play all positions. I line up all positions so I've been doing it my whole career, it's natural."

But maybe Wilfork dispensed the best advice to the newcomers.

"Vince told me to learn the playbook, get out there, start practicing, and he'll figure all the rest out," Ellis said. "Just leave it to him."

The recent additions confirm, the Patriots have big plans.

Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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