Richard Seymour'swords were nearly prophetic.
Last off-season, he spoke confidently – and often – about how he felt 2008 was his year to return to the Pro-Bowl-caliber form that defined his first several seasons in the NFL.
He'd been playing at a disadvantage in the previous two seasons, he claimed. He'd been forced to concentrate on surgeries and rehab instead of his off-season strength and conditioning program, he insisted. Now, his injuries, he said, were behind him. He could once again "hit the ground running," as he put it, and focus on improving himself.
It appears he was right.
While Tennessee's Albert Haynesworthgot all the headlines about being an indispensable cog in the Titans' defense, Seymour posted numbers that were nearly identical to his. Haynesworth ended the regular season with 51 total tackles; Seymour had 52. Haynesworth registered 8.5 sacks; Seymour, 8.0, with 17 quarterback hits.
Haynesworth was voted an All-Pro, however, while Seymour wasn't even named to the Pro Bowl. His numbers suggest he could have been, though.
Moreover, Seymour's health held up; he played in every game, save the finale versus Buffalo, which he missed due to a back injury. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork, a Pro Bowler in '07, was rock solid again this past year, but he wasn't invited back to Hawaii either. He started all 16 games for the Patriots, finishing second on the team in tackles to rookie ILB Jerod Mayo.
The other starter on the d-line in New England's 3-4, Ty Warren, missed just three games with a nagging groin injury that required surgery this off-season (it was also recently reported by *The Boston Globe *that Warren underwent a sports hernia operation as well). His health limited his productivity towards the end of the season, but overall, Warren had another solid year for the Pats defense.
And once again, New England had plenty in reserve. Jarvis Green, Mike Wright, and Le Kevin Smithcontributed significant minutes – in substitute roles, as starters on occasion, and in instances when the Patriots employed four down-linemen. Smith had the highest tackle total of his three-year NFL career, while Wright finished just shy of his career best.
Veteran Kenny "Big" Smithspent the year on injured reserve, and first-year player Titus Adams, a Nebraska product and former college teammate of Le Kevin Smith, was on the team's practice squad for the entire 2008 season.
Wright and Kenny Smith are the only ones of the group who are due to become a free agents in February. The contracts of Seymour, Wilfork, Green, and Le Kevin Smith come to an end after the '09 season, unless, of course, they agree to extensions before then. Adams is inked through '11, and Warren recently signed an extension through '13.
Like the Pats offensive line, there is still a wealth of talent and depth at this position. But that doesn't rule out the team going after more quality players to help foster the competition and perhaps plan for the future.
THE D-LINE ROSTER
(players listed alphabetically, as of January 2009)
62 – Titus Adams
97 – Jarvis Green
93 – Richard Seymour
95 – Kenny Smith
90 – Le Kevin Smith
94 – Ty Warren
75 – Vince Wilfork
99 - Mike Wright
Up next in the Position Snapshot series: running back, coming Monday, January 19. Tomorrow, look for the first off-season edition of Debate Friday, a new series in which the writers of Patriots Football Weekly will tackle the most relevant, interesting topics surrounding the Patriots and football in general.