Each week leading up to the draft, the Foxboro Blog crew will spend a week breaking down a position on the Patriots' roster. We'll start with a quick overview and then move onto a discussion involving potential draftees at that spot as well as free-agents that the Patriots may pursue. Up this week is the Defensive Line...
2010 Recap: The Patriots' defensive line was dealt a tough blow before the season even officially started. Pro Bowler, Ty Warren was placed on injured reserve during traning camp when he injured his hip. Warren's loss left two big gaps on either side of nose tackle, Vince Wilfork. Veteran Gerard Warren was signed as a free-agent and contributed admirably throughout the season, although his playing time tapered off towards the end of the year due to injuries. On the other side, the Patriots had a veritable revolving door of linemen, including Mike Wright, Myron Pryor, Ron Brace, Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick. Despite the depth at the position, the injury bug seemed to strike weekly, and by the time the playoffs rolled around, the Patriots D-line was rather thin.
Overall, the defensive line exceeded expectations this past season, and the bulk of the credit for that goes to Vince Wilfork, who had a career year. Wilfork was often called on to move from nose tackle to defensive end depending on the matchup that week and never seemed to miss a step. The Patriots were strong against the run in 2010, thanks to Wilfork, but the Patriots' defense struggled overall, mostly due to a lack of pass rush and a subsequent inability to stop opponents on 3rd down.
Returning Players: Ron Brace, Landon Cohen, Brandon Deaderick, Marlon Favorite, Kyle Love, Myron Pryor, Darryl Richard, Ty Warren, Kade Weston, Vince Wilfork, Mike Wright
Patriots Free-Agents: Gerrard Warren
2011 Outlook: The Patriots have a lot of quantity on the defensive line, but the overall quality is a big concern. Vince Wilfork is not only the heart and soul of the line, but of the Patriots' defense in general. After Big Vince, though, things get dicey. If Ty Warren is able to return to form, that would be a tremendous boost to the team. However, his hip injury was rather severe and he is getting up there in years. Expecting him to return and not miss a step is somewhat of a leap of faith. Gerrard Warren was more than serviceable during the 2010 campaign, but again, age is a factor. Assuming the Pats bring him back, it's risky to expect him to play big minutes the entire season, especially if the league expands the schedule to 18 games. Mike Wright and Myron Pryor are solid backups.
The Patriots certainly have plenty of depth and if they can avoid getting decimated by injuries yet again, it's reasonable to expect an uptick in production at the position, especially with the return of Ty Warren. However, I think the Patriots would be wise to invest one of their 1st or 2nd round selections in the draft towards a starter to line up next to Wilfork and Warren. The D-line certainly isn't getting younger, and getting some fresh talent at the position would make some great strides towards bolstering the amount of quality at the position.