There is plenty of roster turnover in the NFL on a year-to-year basis.
With the physicality of the sport, free agency, and a long training camp that aims to ensure the best 53 players out of 90 make the team, players come and go. And certainly that is the case for players on the defensive line in New England.
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New England lost Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard to free agency, two defensive ends who made their mark in their short time with the Patriots.
At the start of camp, that position took an even bigger hit when Rob Ninkovich announced his retirement after eight years on the team.
So who can we expect to see putting pressure on the quarterback and clogging up the holes to stop the run?
The Patriots still have plenty of options. Opportunity knocks for a handful of young linemen that began to make the jump last season and continue to trend in the right direction. The player who represents this most is defensive end Trey Flowers.
Flowers, who is going into his third year, really got comfortable in a larger role last season after he started in Week 10 and remained a starter the rest of the way. That season he finished with 45 tackles, a team-high seven sacks, and two fumble recoveries. That success continued in the playoffs, where he started all three games, including the Super Bowl where he recorded six tackles and 2.5 sacks of Matt Ryan.
Needless to say, teams will be focusing on him more this year.
“It’s something that you gotta understand that comes with a little bit of success,” Flowers told WEEI. “They’re going to kind of key in on you, but you gotta still be productive through that. So that’s something that I’m working on in training camp. Just being able to use offensive leverages and know that I might get chipped, know that I might get double-teamed, so you gotta work through it.”
Flowers heads a young defensive end unit that includes Geneo Grissom, recently-traded Kony Ealy, as well as rookies Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise.
While Ealy had a bit of a slower start to camp, Wise made some noise. Unfortunately, Wise suffered a head injury in the team’s first preseason game, so his status going forward is unclear.
Not unclear is the effect Alan Branch has had on the line in his first three seasons with the Patriots. The 11-year veteran has drawn much praise from Bill Belichick over the years and re-signed with the team over the offseason on a two-year, $12 million deal. After proving himself as one of the best interior linemen in the NFL – even at this stage in his career – it’s no wonder to see the Pats re-sign him.
Alongside Branch is Malcom Brown, the Patriots’ 2015 first round pick.
New England signed former Ravens defensive lineman Lawrence Guy to a four-year deal over the offseason. The versatile Guy played in every game for Baltimore over two seasons, making 16 starts, 74 tackles, and 5.5 sacks.
DE - Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Geneo Grissom, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise
DT – Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine, Lawrence Guy
DE - Caleb Kidder, Keionta Davis
DT - Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, Josh Augusta, Adam Butler