Patriots Training Camp Primer – Defensive Tackles

Steve Balestrieri
July 16, 2015 at 06:05am ET

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The Patriots head into training camp in just a few weeks and there should be plenty of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53 man roster and who is on the bubble.

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring is a learning exercise and that the competition begins in training camp. While that is true to an extent, with 88 players on board, 35 of these current members of the roster now, at a minimum will be cut.

We’ve already looked at the Patriots offense and you can check out the links below:

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Tight Ends

Offensive Line

Quarterbacks

Defensive Ends

Next up for the Patriots defense are the defensive tackles. With the big loss of long-time defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, the Patriots will enter the season for the first time in over a decade without the big man in the middle. Wilfork signed a free agent contract with the Houston Texans this spring and will be lining up next to J.J. Watt in 2015.

The interior part of the defensive line will have to still clog the gaps against the run as Wilfork did so well for so long, but also collapse the pocket, not allowing opposing quarterbacks the area to step up to throw. It is something that the team has been searching for during the past several seasons since Richard Seymour left town.

So who’s locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Dominique Easley, Malcom Brown, Alan Branch

Easley and Brown represent what the team hopes will be the tackles for the foreseeable future. Easley was the team’s first round draft pick of 2014 and was coming off of ACL surgery. His rookie campaign was marked by him not being completely healthy but the team shut him down without the need for future surgical procedures.

He’s a slightly undersized, explosive defensive tackle who can penetrate into the backfield and blow up running plays before they get started. He can also get after the passer, beating his would-be blocker with an explosive first step. Now completely healthy, he should be ready to assume a bigger, more productive role in the defense.

Brown was the Patriots’ first round draft pick in this season’s draft with the 32nd overall pick. Originally it was thought he’d be long gone, but the board played out differently and Brown was a steal at 32. He’s bigger than Easley at 6’2, 320 but shows the same pattern of disrupting plays at the point of attack. He has a fantastic blend of size, power and quickness to excel in the NFL. He’s played everywhere from zero to five technique at Texas and is strong enough to withstand double teams but quick enough off the line to get into passing lanes.

Brown had 15 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks for the Longhorns in 2014 earning him Consensus All-American honors. The Patriots are banking on these two to be difference makers for the next decade.

Branch was signed by the Patriots after being released by the Bills and although played only sparingly, he was solid and earned his way onto the field during the key moment of the Super Bowl when the game was on the line. Branch is a very big man at 6’6, 325 and fits the bill for being a two-gap run stuffer.

And with Wilfork gone, and the defensive line a younger unit now, Branch will provide that veteran presence, the 30-year old lineman is now the elder statesman of the Patriots line. He’ll be asked to provide the leadership for the younger players to follow.

Next up are the near locks.

Near Locks: Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones

Sealver Siliga is built similar to Brown at 6’2, 325, but plays more like Wilfork as a primary gap filler and run stuffer. He offers more upside than Branch at this stage of his career, but the thing that could derail him is durability. Siliga played very well in 2014 but only appeared in seven games.

Not known as a pass rusher, Siliga excels in run support, Pro Football Focus (PFF), gave Siliga high marks, a 12.1 run stopping percentage, good for #2 among DT’s who played in at least 25 percent of their team’s defensive snaps. But can he hold up for a 16 game schedule? That’s the big question for him.

Jones is entering his third season with the Patriots and has been most effective as an interior pass rusher. He’s been so-so against the run, but in sub-packages he could still find himself a nice role.

Next …the guys on the bubble

On the Bubble: Joe Vellano, Antonio Johnson, Vince Taylor

Johnson was signed to a futures contract during the winter and has a lot of experience; the eight-year veteran has 43 starts in his career. He’s got good size at 6’3, 328 and if Siliga isn’t healed completely by training camp, could be in-line for some decent reps. He’ll have to make the most of limited opportunities.

Vellano is entering his third season with the Patriots, the slightly undersized 6’2, 300, Maryland alum is going to have to have a good summer to stick in 2015. In the same boat is Vince Taylor the undrafted rookie from Vanderbilt. There won’t be a ton of opportunities this summer, and he’ll have to make the most of them.

The interior of the Patriots defensive line will be much different than in 2014 with no Vince Wilfork this season but there’s no reason to think it couldn’t be much more productive. With some big bodies that can stop the run, they now have a couple of disruptors, men that can push the pocket from the interior with the quickness to blow up plays in the backfield.

Stay tuned, we’ll be down at training camp filing daily updates about the goings-on with the Pats as they begin the march to the 53 man roster.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

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