By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots have had fans buzzing with the seemingly increasing use of a 4-3 defense to start their training camp. Given the Pats woes in the pass rush department the last few years and their dreadful performance on third down with the defense, it is little wonder.
Of course bringing in Albert Haynesworth on a trade with the Redskins is bound to fuel that talk. He and Vince Wilfork lined up beside each other at defensive tackle is something to behold. So far, in camp the results have been ranging anywhere from very good to excellent. They have been disrupting both the running game and collapsing the pocket in the passing game.
But questions about outside pressure of the quarterback remain and early in camp the Pats have moved both Eric Moore and Jermaine Cunningham back to their original positions as 4-3 defensive ends and away from the 3-4 outside linebacker position. Both have performed very well there, benefiting from having either Haynesworth or Wilfork being doubled in the middle.
After those two however, depth is a problem and the Patriots have kicked the tires on a few linemen who could fill the void. Among them are Raheem Brock, who worked out for the team but decided to return to the Seahawks, Quentin Moses from the Dolphins who reportedly showed up very much out of shape and Shaun Ellis from the Jets. But it was Mark Anderson, free agent from the Bears and Texans whom the Patriots signed.
In a total Bill Belichick move, he went against the grain and signed someone who wasn’t even on anyone’s radar. Anderson who is 6’4, 255 was signed by Chicago in 2006 and burst on the scene as a rookie with 12 sacks using his speed as a situational pass rusher. Handed the starting job in 2007, he struggled, particularly against the run and was again relegated to back up duty. He was released by the Bears on October 5 of last year, signed with the Texans and played the last 11 games with two starts.
Anderson projects to be a depth player, a situational pass rusher again with the Pats. In albeit a short window of practices so far, Anderson has shown to be exactly that type of player. On some plays, utilizing his speed to bring pressure on the QB, and on others being manhandled by offensive linemen. Anderson isn’t the big physical presence on the edge, relying more on his speed. He will have time to carve out a niche here however and will bear further watching.
Anderson will compete with others for playing time, among them undrafted free agents Clay Nurse, Alex Silvestro, veteran Marques Murrell and 6th round draft pick Markell Carter. Silvestro has been getting the most reps of any of the undrafted free agents so far. It seems every season there is one UDFA who makes the team, this season it may be the rookie from Rutgers.
Speaking of Carter, he’s been getting a lot of reps with the second team as a 4-3 DE, where it was originally thought he’d be making a transition to OLB in the Pats 3-4 scheme. So far, he looks like he lacks the bulk and strength to be truly effective. He will need to bulk up a bit with the strength and conditioning coaches if he wants to play regularly.
With the team taking the slow approach in regards to Haynesworth and others including Ron Brace, Myron Pryor and Brandon Deaderick all on PUP, one player who is taking advantage is DL Kade Weston. Weston is big, 6’5 315, and after spending last season on IR, is intent on showing what he can offer. While still in the developing stage, Weston hasn’t done anything to hurt his chances so far in camp.
The Pats have also kicked the tires on a few OLBs so far with fan favorite Matt Roth and Matt Light nemesis Channing Crowder coming in for workouts and physicals. Although neither one has signed, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities to see the Patriots add a linebacker. Roth played in a similar system in Cleveland. While Crowder would be an OLB in the 3-4, he’d more than likely be a MLB in the 4-3 backing up Brandon Spikes. Crowder would definitely spice things up in terms of his on-going feud with Rex Ryan, in an on-going war of words between the two last year,that would only increase if Crowder were to sign with the Patriots.
Finally, I’d like to thank Ian for allowing me to join the solid team over here at Patsfans.com, I’ve been a reader of all of the staff for quite some time and relish the thought of working so closely with all of the writers here. Russ Goldman and I took in training camp together and were comparing notes on players and schemes and I would hope to do much more of that in the future.
And thanks to Rob and Joe White from isports.com, who gave me a vehicle to write about the Pats for the past three years. They are great folks who do a fantastic job covering the college scene at Michigan. Thanks guys…
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