Patriots position previews: Interior defensive line - Metro US

Patriots position previews: Interior defensive line

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There are many out there who believe NFL preseason games are a big waste of time, and that they only put players in jeopardy of missing meaningful games.

While there are plenty of examples of preseason injuries having a huge effect on the regular season, there are also plenty of examples of lesser-known players making a case for the 53-man roster over more established ones.

When the Patriots signed Terrance Knighton to a one-year deal over the offseason, the eight-year veteran was seen as a great addition to the defensive line. “Pot Roast” was a force in the middle, and came to New England with 230 career tackles.

When the Patriots signed Anthony Johnson? Not a peep. Johnson played seven games with the Dolphins in 2014 before hitting the IR. He spent the 2015 season on the Redskins practice squad before New England signed him.

But when ball was kicked off for preseason play, it was Johnson who showed up on film, and Knighton who just didn’t seem to fit as well.

Knighton got word of his release before the Patriots trimmed their roster to 53. Johnson, the formerly undrafted product out of LSU, can officially call himself a Patriot.

And make no mistake about it, Johnson worked tirelessly this offseason to transform his body and give himself the best chance to crack the roster. Johnson lost roughly 40 pounds from last season, and now plays at under 300 pounds for the first time in his football career.

“Honestly, I didn’t even recognize him when we brought him in for a workout,” Bill Belichick told reporters earlier in camp. “I looked at him and said, ‘Do we have the right guy here?’ . . . He’s faster, he’s quicker, he’s obviously lighter, doesn’t have as much power but he was an interesting guy.”

In three preseason games (he missed the first one due to injury), Johnson had four tackles, two half-sacks, a pass break-up, and a fumble recovery.

“He has had some positive and productive plays for us,” Belichick told reporters. “He works hard, he’s a good kid, and he’s tough. He has battled through some things and he still finds a way to get out on the field and keep competing with them, and he has had some production for us.”

Joined on the interior defensive line with Johnson is veteran 10-year veteran Alan Branch, second-year veteran Malcom Brown, and rookie Vincent Valentine.

Branch has been a pleasant addition to the team since he signed during the 2014 season and won a Super Bowl. The Patriots then signed him to a two-year extension, and he goes into 2016 in the final year of that deal, meaning the Patriots have yet another defensive roster spot to think about in the not-so-distant future.

Brown was an obvious lock to make the roster as the former first-rounder finished his rookie season with 48 tackles, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, and three run stuffs. He should be a mainstay on the defensive line for years to come.

Valentine hopes to make an impact in his rookie season as well, drafted by the team with the 96thpick in the NFL Draft.

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