What started out as a position of strength and depth for the Patriots was beset by injuries early (Ty Warren to IR before the season started) and, toward the end of the year, often.
Concussions kept veterans like Mike Wright and Ron Brace on the shelf for a while, and a nagging back problem limited Myron Pryor throughout the year. By the time December rolled around, the Patriots personnel department was scrambling to fill voids by signing street free agents like Eric Moore, Landon Cohen, and Marlon Favorite. It got so thin that rookies Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love were forced into starting roles on occasion, and contributed frequently during the course of the season.
But like their counterparts on the offensive line, the d-line's anchor could be found in the middle. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who often slid out to play end, started all 16 games and was named a second-team All-Pro.
Changes, perhaps significant ones, could be in store for this group in 2011. Veteran Gerard Warren, having played on a one-year deal, has expressed a desire to return.
"I most definitely want to continue playing," Warren told reporters earlier this month as the team packed up for the offseason.
"I'd like for it to be here, so we'll see how things work out… It was an awesome experience to be able to come and work with a group of professionals, from top to bottom, people with the same mission and same focus. Hopefully we can come back next year and complete that mission."
Will the team welcome him back, or continue its youth movement? The answer could be both.
THE DEFENSIVE LINE ROSTER
(Players listed alphabetically, as of January 2011, with individual analysis below)
92 – Ron Brace
Improved on his lackluster rookie campaign threefold, in terms of tackling statistics. He also started five of the 13 games in which he appeared. A concussion, then an elbow injury late in the season, cost him a chance to play in the playoffs. He'll have another chance to compete for significant playing time this year.
66 – Landon CohenSigned in late December, the journeyman started just four days later at Buffalo. He was inked through '11, so he should at least get another chance in the summer.
71 – Brandon DeaderickThe rookie earned himself a few mid-season starts, before a team-imposed suspension landed him in Bill Belichick's doghouse. But he started the playoff loss to the Jets to end his rollercoaster year. A seventh-round pick in '10, he'll push for more playing time in '11.
68 – Marlon Favorite
A last-second signing to the practice squad, the first-year player signed a futures contract, meaning he should get at least a few more months with the squad, assuming there are spring practices.
74 – Kyle Love
This rookie earned his roster spot as an undrafted free agent, and improved each time he stepped on the field, seeing more action as the year wore on. That fighting spirit should help him battle for another job in '11.
98 – Eric MooreAt 6-4, 268, Moore is more of an OLB in New England's 3-4 defense, but wherever the Patriots put him in the final month of the season, he was making plays. He seems to have done enough to warrant a second look this coming season.
91 – Myron Pryor
Couldn't quite recover from the lingering back problems that plagued him all year and seemed to take a step back from his impressive rookie year. But he'll be back, if healthy, in '11.
90 – Darryl RichardSpent his entire second year on injured reserve. Could struggle to find a job this season, given the ground his peers have already gained over him.
92 – Gerard Warren"Big Money," as he's known affectionately among teammates, won over the Patriots with his locker room presence and on-field contributions. He'll likely get a second chance in New England next season.
94 – Ty Warren
On injured reserve all season, but appears in little danger of losing his job, as he's signed through 2013.
66 – Kade Weston
Spent his entire rookie campaign on IR. Not a good start, but should get another opportunity if healthy in '11.
75 – Vince Wilfork* *Perhaps his best year (on the field) as a pro this past season. As a captain, he'll need to work on his relationship with the press, particularly after losses.
99 – Mike WrightWasn't seen after suffering a severe concussion against Indianapolis in late November. When healthy, though, he's a dependable, versatile backup who's locked up through '12.
Up next in the Position Snapshot series: running back, coming Thursday, Jan. 27.