The Patriots spent quite a bit of time trying to add to the defensive line during the offseason. In particular, the area of focus seemed to be the interior, where the team added Terrance Knighton, Markus Kuhn, Vincent Valentine and Frank Kearse through free agency and the draft.
The man in charge of integrating those new pieces is defensive line coach Brendan Daly. Daly, who is entering his third year with the Patriots and second in charge of the front, enjoys the process and is looking forward to the start of training camp to better assess his troops.
"It's a good group. It's always fun bringing fresh guys, news guys … there's a challenge involved there," Daly said Wednesday while joining the rest of the Patriots assistant coaches at Gillette Stadium. "There's kind of a process that takes place in terms of getting to know each other and getting on the same page and that's been fun. We feel like we've made some strides there through the offseason program. We're excited to get everyone back here and get to work.
"We've done what we do in trying to get them on page with what we're doing schematically from a technique standpoint. It's been fun to watch them work and learn and grow. Each guy is different so that experience, based on the individual, is unique to each one of them. I think the goal of the offseason program is to get them up to speed and into position where they're able to compete and now is when we can really start doing that."
Despite all the newcomers in Daly's stable, the key performer could very well be a player who was already a big part of the defense a year ago. Malcom Brown, last year's first-round pick, enjoyed a strong rookie season and some – including Knighton – have praised his leadership and predict bigger and better things in his future.
"Malcom's done a nice job. As a rookie he came in and did some good things for us," Daly said. "I think we're all excited to see him take the next step. Part of that is leadership, part of that is improving on the field, part of that is improving his understanding of the game. There's a broad brush I think you can paint with in terms of things he can get better at so we're excited to watch him work and see where it goes."
The newcomers aren't limited to the interior, however. Veterans Chris Long and Shea McClellin signed as free agents and could factor into the equation on the outside. They also have some versatility to offer – Long with his ability to play inside and out and McClellin to play on and off the line.
"We have a number of guys that have some versatility to their skill set," Daly added. "Shea's a guy that played in a couple of different roles in Chicago over the last several years and I think that's something we always take an open-minded approach with and let their performance on the field dictate – he's good at this, not very good at that or whatever it may be. I don't think that's unique to Shea but it's an approach we try to take with all of them.
"Chris did a great job through the offseason, worked really hard, came in and studied extremely hard. He spent some extra time trying to get himself up to speed, so I was impressed with the way he worked through the offseason and I'm excited to see what he does when we get out here."
With all of the new pieces now in the fold, it will be interesting to watch which ones prove to be useful and how Daly and the rest of the coaches choose to proceed.