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Over the next couple of days, Musket Fire will be running an end of year, ‘report card’ feature, that will give a final grade to each positional group for the 2013 season. It was a horrible year for this group in terms of injuries, as their two starting defensive tackles, Vince Wilfork, and Tommy Kelly, both sustained season ending injuries towards the beginning of the year. With that being said, considering the circumstances, I thought the new guys filled in decently, especially considering the kind of talent they had. When it was all said and done, these three guys didn’t play too bad this past season, and one big positive the Pats get out of Wilfork and Kelly missing most of the season, is they now have some solid depth in Jones, Vellano, and Siliga (assuming the starters can stay healthy in 2014). The New England Patriots lost Akiem Ayers and Dominique Easley this offseason, but they also added Terrance Knighton and rookie Vincent Valentine. You always want to run some kind of a rotation with your defensive tackles, but when you have four very talented and mostly proven tackles at your disposal like the Pats do, you must run a rotation. Branch, Knighton and Brown are all excellent against the run, and combined with Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins at linebacker, this run defense should be one of the best in the NFL in 2016.
Those four defensive tackles I mentioned are definitely locks for the roster, but I also think Markus Kuhn has a very good chance at making the final roster. Also, image thumbnail is just preview of the full size image available on original publisher site.
With this being the case, the question looms:  Why do opposing quarterbacks still seem to have all day to throw the ball? The pass rush should also benefit from the presense of newly acquired cornerback Aqib Talib.  If he comes as talented as advertized, his coverage skills should give the pass rush another split second to get to the quarterback as well. In the time leading up to the beginning of training camp, we will be bringing you previews for each New England Patriots positional group. Up next is the defensive tackles. With Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly (hopefully) back in the fold, the Pats look to be in good shape at this position for the 2014 season.
If Wilfork and Kelly are healthy, the run defense should be just fine for the Patriots in this upcoming season. However if one, or both of them suffer another injury, or is not fully recovered from their past healthy mishaps, one of the younger guys will have to step up. Tom Brady himself has said that pressure in the face of the quarterback is worse than pressure from the edge, so if Easley can show that he will be able to bring that to Foxboro, we will be in for a good season. The New England Patriots are prime candidates to move up and make an early selection in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. The New England Patriots were observers on the opening night of the 2016 NFL Draft thanks to the sanctions passed down by the NFL in the DeflateGate situation. The Patriots do not have a draft pick until picks 60 and 61, but they possess the draft capital to move up earlier in the draft to make their first selection. With needs at cornerback, defensive line, wide receiver and offensive tackle, there are a multitude of players left on the board that could entice the Patriots. The Patriots’ pass rush looked deep and dangerous in Thursday night’s preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints, and they didn’t even have starter Rob Ninkovich on the field.
This is the biggest reason why I wasn’t worried when Bill Belichick traded away Chandler Jones this offseason.
With Rob Ninkovich sidelined for at least a month, Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard will be the starters on the edge for the Pats.

On the inside, the top two guys will most likely be Malcom Brown and Alan Branch, with rookie Vincent Valentine and veteran Terrance Knighton subbing in. This forced a lot of inexperienced players into game action, which was the main reason why New England finished 30th in the league in run defense.
Joe Vellano and Chris Jones started for the Pats when Wilfork and Kelly initially went down, and eventually it seemed like they were getting the hang of life in the middle of an NFL defense.
Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones both had good campaigns, although they did disappear in the biggest moment back in the AFC Championship game.
Obviously there was a lot of behind the scenes issues going on with Easley, so all things considered, I think the Pats are in just as good a position up front as last year, if not better.
Alan Branch, Terrance Knighton and Malcom Brown will likely get the bulk of the snaps, but the rookie, Vincent Valentine is very intriguing and I think he will get a good amount of looks in his first season. Chris Long, Jabaal Sheard, Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich and the top linebackers can all get after the quarterback, so I think the Pats will be able to get the job done in that department. He is a talented vet, and as the Patriots know by experience, you don’t want to be caught with too little depth at defensive tackle come November and December.
The New England Patriots signed exclusive rights to free agents Brandon KingThe New England Patriots have re-signed defensive backs Justin Coleman and Brandon King. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford (8) is pressured by New England Patriots defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich (50) and defensive end Chandler Jones (95) in the 2012 NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. There is plenty of solid depth, they have some young talent, and Wilfork, their veteran leader, should be back in the starting lineup come September. How do the veterans look like coming back from their injuries, and can Dominique Easley bring that explosive pass rush that we are all hoping he can put forth. Wilfork takes up two or three blockers nearly every play, which opens up plenty of space for his teammates to operate. They missed most of the 2013 season, and even though they are both getting up there in age, I think they have had an ample amount of time to recover, and potentially get right back into their groove before the season begins. Sealver Siliga is great in clogging up the middle and playing the run, while Chris Jones showed that he can provide a decent pass rush from that defensive tackle position.
All reports coming out of minicamp indicated that the rehab from his knee injury is going very well, and multiple reporters said that he looked great coming in and out of cuts back in June. If he indeed comes out firing in the 2014 season, this New England defense will be extremely scary. Some speculated that the Patriots would move up into the end of the 1st Round, but that did not happen and the Patriots did not make a draft pick. With a crazy 1st Round full of players falling and teams reaching for lower rated players, there are strong players that will be available for the Patriots to trade up for and select early in round two of the NFL Draft.
A run on receivers late in the first round cut down on the depth at that position, but also left many quality defensive linemen on the board.
Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long and Shea McClellin impressed early, and Trey Flowers, Rufus Johnson and Geneo Grissom kept the heat coming all game. They don’t have one dominant pass rusher, but they do have a plethora of talented guys that can really get after the quarterback. Both of them are extremely talented, and as they showed on Thursday, they can rush the passer very effectively.

All four of these players are more than capable of being starters, and the fact that New England can have two of them as reserves speaks to how deep Bill Belichick has built this defensive line.
Jones finished the year with six sacks, and it was evident throughout the season that his quickness as an interior lineman would give opposing offensive guards trouble in pass protection.
The Patriots finished 2013 ranked fifth in the league sacks, which was better than the Super Bowl bound Seattle Seahawks. The New England Patriots signed exclusive rights to free agents Brandon King (safety) and Justin Coleman (cornerback). Kelly has a bit of a different playing style, and while he can still take up blocks, he is at his best when pushing back offensive lineman, trying to disrupt the rhythm of the quarterback. These two will be fighting for a roster spot over the next little while, and I expect them to continue their solid progress, and put on a good showing in camp. Not only do they have two quality ends in Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, but they will have a force from the inside in Easley, something they haven’t had for quite some time. Every Day.Build your own custom daily newsletter with updates on your favorite teams, sent directly to your inbox. There is also great depth in the offensive tackle position, and could be a prime candidate for the Patriots to select with a trade up. But what makes this defense so dangerous, is the depth they have behind them: Rufus Johnson, Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom and Shea McClellin will all step in as backups in passing situations, which will keep everyone fresh without sacrificing too much in talent. Vellano was more of a run stopper, although at the end of the year he lost his spot to Sealver Siliga, who in my opinion was the most effective of the three young defensive lineman. Coleman was signed to the Patriots from the Seattle Seahawks practice squad, but entered the league as a rookie free agent with the Minnesota Vikings. If it weren’t for his knee injuries, experts say that Easley may have gone top 10, maybe even top five. It is obvious that Jones has a lot of potential as a pass rusher, and if he can develop a few more moves to his arsenal, I think he could become a dominant force in this league.
He is primarily utilized as the third cornerback behind starters Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan.
Having a guy that can beat any offensive tackle is a must in today’s NFL, and it is something New England lacks. King was primarily a special teamer during the 2015 regular season and made an impact with that unit during the 2015 playoffs. I am not saying they should get rid of Ninkovich, because he is one of the best players on this team, but the Pats would be wise to look into getting a pass rushing specialist, that could come in on third downs in key situations. He was a rookie free agent out of Auburn, and spent his entire NFL career with New England. Carter was signed back in October, and even though he didn’t rack up the sacks, I thought he played very well as a sub-package pass rusher. I doubt he will be back for next season, but it was great having him back in New England, as his presence on the field definitely helped them take advantage of some matchups throughout the year.

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