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Team young at DL

With the termination of Henry Thomas Tuesday and the departure of Chad Eaton to Seattle late last week, the Patriots are suddenly very green along the defensive line.

Between the two, Thomas and Eaton have played in 278 NFL games, including 244 starts. In 2000 the pair combined for 120 tackles and seven sacks. The five remaining interior defensive linemen on the roster have combined for 233 tackles and 9.5 sacks in their collective careers.

With this in mind, New England will certainly look to upgrade the roster at the position, whether it is through the draft or free agency. While veteran Bobby Hamilton is a serviceable starter, the rest of the corps boasts limited experience. In his first season in New England Hamilton started every game and was fourth on the team in tackles with 79, giving him the highest total among all defensive linemen.

Beyond him the group has ground to cover. Chuck Osborne, who was on the 53-man roster for the final weeks of the 2000 season, is now the most experienced player behind Hamilton. He has played in 38 games and has 28 career tackles and 1.5 sacks. Osborne most recently played with Oakland in 1999.

Garrett Johnson, who was re-signed on Tuesday, Reggie Grimes and David Nugent all saw their first professional action in 2000. Johnson spent most of the 1999 season on the practice squad prior to playing in eight games and producing 11 tackles and a fumble recovery last year. Grimes, an undrafted free agent in 2000, played in eight games, while Nugent, a sixth round pick in 2000, saw limited play in six contests.

Johnson, Grimes and Nugent will all certainly be given more time to develop, but it is unlikely the team will go into the season without adding either a free agent veteran capable of stepping in. Some of the available players being tossed around Dana Stubblefield, who was in Foxboro Stadium for a visit recently; Ernie Logan, who of course is familiar with Belichick from their days with the New York Jets; and Shawn Price of the Buffalo Bills.

Of the three, Stubblefield is the biggest name, having been a former Defensive Player of the Year. Whomever does come is likely to do so at the low end of the pay scale, as Head Coach Bill Belichick's defenses have a history of success using less-than-household name players willing to play hard without having the spotlight on them.

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