Here it is, one day before the draft, and there still can't be a strong indication of what direction New England will head. There is a good chance that the Patriots will tap the defensive line supply early for the second consecutive year.
The sixth-overall pick a year ago, Richard Seymour appears to be a star in the making after a strong rookie campaign. Now New England would like to get another young prospect who could help form a foundation up front for the defense. The Patriots already have a high number of defensive linemen (12 to be exact), but other than Seymour, there is nothing in the way of a sure bet among the young plays, particularly inside at the defensive tackle spots.
New England let starter Brandon Mitchell depart to Seattle via free agency, and reserve Riddick Parker has not been re-signed and doesn't appear in the plans for the future. The team did sign six-year veteran Steve Martin, who started 15 games for the Jets in 2001.
Behind Seymour and Martin are David Nugent, Jace Sayler and Maurice Anderson. Nugent is heading into his third season and showed progress last season, appearing in nine games and making his first career start against Cleveland in Week 13. Sayler was originally signed as a rookie free agent and went on to start in the season opener before a knee injury landed him on injured reserve. Both Nugent and Sayler could see bigger roles in the future provided they continue to progress, but at the same time neither is ready for prime time at this point. Anderson was a practice squad member last season.
The Patriots have deeper numbers at the defensive end spots, but that won't change the efforts to add more if the right players is available. There are currently seven ends on the roster, but three did not play at all last season and the remaining four all have at least six years under their belt.
Starters Bobby Hamilton and Anthony Pleasant will return, but Pleasant is entering his 13th season. Hamilton is a consistent player who performs well in Bill Belichick's defense, but he's not a dominating player. The same holds true for newcomer Rick Lyle, who started three of the 16 games he played for the Jets last season. The eight-year veteran was a fulltime starter for four season prior to last year and should compete for significant playing time, if not a starting job.
Willie McGinest is basically another starter on the defense, though he was credited with just five starts in 11 games last season. He is still the team's best top rusher, but he is heading into his ninth season. Getting a young rusher off the edge has to be a major goal for the Patriots.
One thing to keep in mind is that Belichick already stated the team will play a base 4-3 defense this year and still had to determine how often they will switch to a 3-4. Each of the last two seasons the Patriots brought 12 defensive linemen into camp, the same number they are at right now. However, several of players are fringe players at best right now.
Depth in the front seven of the New England is a big concern. Look for the Patriots to address this area on Day One.
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