By: Steve Balestrieri
The Patriots will open their 2013 Training Camp next week with the first practice slated for 9 a.m. on July 26. Here at PatsFans.com we’ll be bringing you a look at the roster by positions and who is competing for each slot and how they fit the system.
We’ve already looked at the running backs , linebackers, defensive ends , safeties and the tight ends as many of the positions this summer will be hotly contested. Check in with us daily as we’ll bring you a close look at training camp from the entire staff here.
Vince Wilfork remains the unquestioned leader of the New England defense. (FILE:USPresswire)
Today we’ll be looking at the big men on the interior, the defensive tackles, the players on the roster and how they’ll likely be used by the Patriots and their chances of sticking on the final 53.
Wilfork Remains the Key- The Patriots interior defensive line is another unit going through some change, players jettisoned this off-season were Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick and Ron Brace. But Vince Wilfork, who even at the age of 31, continues to play at a very high level, clogging the interior of the line and providing the veteran presence that makes him the unquestioned leader of the defense.
One of the missing elements of the interior of the line has been the inability to get to the quarterback and provide that pocket push needed to help out a beleaguered secondary. Of the three players let go, they were very good run stuffers but offered little in the pass rushing department.
It’s been no secret that the team has lacked this interior push and the Patriots have tried to bring in several players to fix it. The team tried to sign Red Bryant from Seattle, signed Albert Haynesworth who failed and last season signed Jonathan Fanene who had an undisclosed knee injury and never took the field for them.
They even used defensive ends on the inside last season to get the needed push on the pocket, to no avail. Now that is poised for a change.
The team has now looked to free agency and the CFL in hopes of remedying that situation as well as bringing in some fresh rookie faces.
Roster Breakdown- Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Armond Armstead, Marcus Forston, Cory Grissom, Joe Vellano.
Vince Wilfork- As mentioned above, Wilfork remains the heart and soul of the Patriots defense, no one is more respected either in the locker room or on the field. Wilfork has, forever it seems been the guy who fills the gaps and takes on multiple blockers and remains one of the best in the business.
The Patriots defense can ill-afford to lose a player of Wilfork’s caliber. What they are hoping to do this season is give him a breather at times and keep him fresh. If that proves to be the case, Wilfork could be more effective and perhaps add a year or two onto the back end of his career.
Tommy Kelly- Kelly was brought in during the free agency period from the Raiders to help the Patriots interior pass rush. The big 6’6, 310 tackle has been extremely durable, and has played in every game since 2008. While average against the run, Kelly’s forte has been getting after the quarterback.
Kelly played in nearly 75 percent of the Raiders defensive snaps in 2012 which may be part of the reason his production was so far down than normal for him. Some reports suggested he was too over-worked to be effective and again like Wilfork, the Patriots plan is to rotate players in and out to keep fresh legs on the field.
The team is hoping to get the returns from Kelly similar to the 2010-11 time frame when Kelly totaled 14.5 sacks, if they can get close to that kind of production, it would go a long way to alleviate those pass rush woes.
Armond Armstead- The big man from USC and the CFL is only 22 years old and was deemed an “extra draft pick” when the Patriots signed him away from the Toronto Argonauts this off-season.
Projected as a 2nd round draft pick, Armstead suffered a heart attack at USC that he later claimed came from medication the team’s medical staff gave him. As a result he was undrafted and went to Canada. Given a clean bill of health, he played very well and the team is hoping to strike gold similar to Cameron Wake by bringing him in.
The 6’5, 295 Armstead is still considered raw but has great potential and is an uber-athletic prospect who should immediately upgrade their pass rush. Keep a close eye on him during training camp.
Marcus Forston- Forston was signed as an UDFA from Miami in 2012. The 6’3, 305 tackle made the roster out of training camp played in one game against the Ravens early in the season before being released and signed to the practice squad.
He was signed to the active roster in the playoffs and should compete for a roster slot as a backup. Considered a good run stuffer with decent pass rushing ability in college, Forston will be looking to take a big step in his second season.
Cory Grissom- The Patriots signed Grissom from South Florida as an UDFA. The big framed 6’1, 306 Grissom is built for playing nose tackle and would be utilized as a backup to Wilfork.
Grissom is strictly a two-down run stuffer with little pass rush ability at this point due to a lack of speed to get around blockers. He’s a longshot to make the roster.
Joe Vellano- The undersized 6’2, 285 tackle from Maryland is the kind of guy everyone will root for, Vellano has a great motor and a keen eye for the football.
Vellano too is a long shot to make the roster but he’s quick, athletic (7.58 time on the three-cone drill) and has a good football I.Q., a captain and three time All-ACC player, he is a dark horse to watch.
Conclusions- The Patriots are moving away from a run stopping unit first in the interior and trying to get more of a push up the middle. We saw that last season as they used undersized DEs Jermaine Cunningham and Justin Francis inside at times trying to push the pocket.
The additions of Kelly and Armstead should go a long way to fix that situation; Wilfork remains the two-gap plugger. These players should complement an improved edge pass rush from Ninkovich and Jones as well as draft pick Jamie Collins and give the team a much better push on the pocket than they’ve had.
Have they done enough? Time will tell, but the additions of Kelly and Armstead are light years ahead of playing undersized DEs in the interior. Stay tuned…