With the uncertainty surrounding the Patriots cornerbacks, there’s an even further importance on the defensive line this season.
It’s simple – get to the quarterback before he can throw it, and it won’t matter who’s covering the wide receivers. (OK, it’s not that simple…)
But just like there is turnover at the cornerback spot, there is turnover on the defensive line.
One of the all-time greatest Patriots, Vince Wilfork, has moved on to Houston, and the Patriots now have a big void – literally and figuratively– to fill in the middle.
There’s plenty of young blood on this year’s D-line, so let’s take a look at some of the names you’ll be hearing about in camp.
Automatics – Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers, Jabaal Sheard
Rob Ninkovich may be one of the most unheralded Patriots over the last few seasons, but he’s had success at both outside linebacker and defensive end for the Patriots. His football IQ is of even more importance on a young line.
This is a big season for Chandler Jones, too. The one thing Jones can improve on: consistency. At times he looks locked in, and others you forget he’s even on the field.
The Patriots signed fifth-year veteran Jabaal Sheard from Cleveland over the offseason. Sheard has 23 sacks over his first four seasons and should see increased playing time in New England.
There will be lots of eyes on the Patriots two rookie defensive ends. Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers were taken four picks apart in the 3rd and 4th rounds, respectively, and both look to find roles off the edge.
Automatics – Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, Dominique Easley, Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga
Who’s going to clog the middle? The Patriots are going to need their young players to step up this season.
They’ve got two first-round draft picks – one last year in Dominique Easley and one this year in Malcom Brown – looking to make a splash early on in their careers. Easley fell to the Patriots in last year’s draft due to tearing both of his ACLs in college. After the Pats placed him on the IR last season, Easley is healthy and ready to go, having just come off the camp PUP list.
Brown was a 2014 Bronco Nagurski Trophy finalist (most outstanding defensive player) and his versatility on the line will be something Bill Belichick will look to utilize. Though he played some nose tackle, Brown is not a Vince Wilfork replacement.
The Patriots also have linemen Alan Branch, Chris Jones, and Sealver Siliga to provide some veteran depth. Branch was re-signed by the Pats over the offseason. Jones and Siliga are both Wilfork protégés and if healthy will be counted on to shoulder the load this season.
The rest: DE Zach Moore, DE Xavier Dickson, DT Antonio Johnson, DT Joe Vellano, DT Vince Taylor