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Post mini-camp position breakdown: Defensive Line

Training camp is fast approaching, and everyone will be trying to find his place on the team. The Patriots defensive line appears to be ready to start the season, but with lack of depth a concern, what will the Patriots do if injury strikes? Questions will be answered when the pads get strapped on.

Richard Seymour – Regarded by many as perhaps the best defensive lineman in the NFL, Seymour is sure to continue playing the kind of football that has earned him four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances in his five-year career. He's been the backbone of the Patriots defense, and will likely continue to play this role. Without faltering, Seymour has consistently improved on his total tackles mark each year, leading the defensive lineman in three of his last four seasons and compiling a four-year total of 272 stops. He might have led the D-line in tackles again last year, had he not sat out four pre-Thanksgiving games with a knee injury. He returned to finish the season out strong and there's no indication that his knee is still bothering him. Simply put: one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL.

Vince Wilfork – Wilfork held down the inside last year, leading the defensive line with a career-high 91 tackles. He was a shot put star for Miami's track team, and he seems to have shot-put the other nose tackles in their places, starting in all sixteen regular season games last year. Although he had a rough start in 2005, his game really turned around against Buffalo, where he had a career-high 12 tackles. From there, Wilfork never looked back. This could be the season Wilfork breaks out and takes his game to the next level.

Ty Warren – Warren is the unheralded workhorse opposite Seymour. He finished third on the team with a career-high 77 tackles last year, and started all the regular season games in 2004 and 2005. Although his stats aren't stunning, he holds his ground well at the line of scrimmage, allowing linebackers to make big plays. He's also known as one of the better run-stuffing ends in the league, as evidenced by his high tackle totals.

Jarvis Green – Number one in rotation with Seymour and Warren, Green has been seen occupying the outside, with Seymour bumping inside when the defense switches to a 4-3. A pass rushing specialist most of the time, Green can be counted on to step into the starting lineup should any of the top three guys go down with an injury.

Mike Wright – An undrafted free agent last year, Wright picked up some of the slack when Seymour went down. He seems to be better suited as a defensive end than on the inside, and has said that he wants to take departed Matt Chatham's place on special teams this year. He appears to have worked hard this offseason, and has visibly added muscle to his frame. Provided he does well at training-camp, he could become a regular on defense this year considering the lack of depth along the defensive line.

Le Kevin Smith – Though only a rookie, if Le Kevin Smith plays well in training-camp, he could set himself up to be Wilfork's backup. Selected by the Patriots in the sixth round, Smith was a key player on the Nebraska defense last year. By the way, Nebraska's defense led the nation last year with 50 quarterback sacks, and 124 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Smith was a defensive tackle for the Cornhuskers, but should fit into the Patriots 3-4 well, since he started at nose tackle in 2004 and recorded just as many tackles as he had last year (43). He's got a lot of girth, and should have the size and strength to get a lot of playing time in 2006, provided he's ready.

Johnathan Sullivan – Selected sixth overall in the 2003 draft, Sullivan never lived up to the Saints expectations. He's recently been traded to the Patriots in hopes of getting a new start. Sullivan played with Richard Seymour at Georgia, so New England has the potential to be a good fit for him. His conditioning wasn't great at the Saints mini-camp this year and has disappointed them before. He was also seen wearing braces on both knees at mini-camp with the Patriots. With luck, Sullivan could finally live up to his reputation this season, though with his recent arrest he's not off to a great start. At this point he'll have to work to earn a roster spot, but if he can get it done, he could beat out Smith as Wilfork's backup.

Dan Klecko – Entering his fourth year with the Patriots, Klecko has never quite found a position in the NFL. Though he is predominantly a defensive end, he has played linebacker, nose tackle, and even fullback for the Patriots, however his inability to specialize has hurt his playing time quite a bit. As usual, Klecko enters training camp fighting for a roster spot.

Marquise Hill, Santonio Thomas, and Jeremy Mincey – Hill is athletic but has yet to show it on the field. He was a second-round draft pick who hasn't lived up to expectations. This is a make-or-break year for Hill if he wants to make an impact with the Patriots. Thomas was on the practice squad last year and will be fighting for a roster spot in training-camp. Jeremy Mincey was a defensive end at Florida, but will likely make the move to outside linebacker with the Patriots. He wasn't on the field much during mini-camp, so we'll have to wait until August to see what role he'll have on the team.

Overall – The Patriots defensive line will be well anchored by Seymour, and each of the other two starters looks fully capable of playing his role. The real danger comes if any of those three are injured, especially when the Patriots look to switch into a four-man front.

Of Wright, Smith, and Sullivan, any of them could be capable of stepping up to fill potential holes, but as of now, they all look like they'll be battling for spots behind the starters.

After that, things kind of drop off, and depth could be a concern for the Patriots. The last four will all be fighting for roster spots, but training-camp is around the corner, and everyone will finally get a chance to prove himself on the field.

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