With Patriots training camp set to open on July 26, CBSBostonSports.com will break down the outlook for every position on the roster. Today’s breakdown is on the defensive line.
Position: Defensive Line
Major Players: Vince Wilfork, Jake Bequette, Ron Brace, Brandon Deaderick, Jonathan Fanene, Chandler Jones, Trevor Scott, Kyle Love, Gerard Warren, Myron Pryor
On The Bubble: Justin Francis, Alex Silvestro, Marcus Forston, Aaron Lavarias, Marcus Harrison, Jermaine Cunningham
Last season, the Patriots surrendered 411.1 yards per game and 6,577 yards on the season. They allowed 8.0 yards per passing attempt and 294 passing yards per game. They recorded 40 sacks, though their pressure on opposing quarterbacks would disappear for long stretches of time. They allowed opponents to convert 43.1 percent of third-down conversions, bad enough for 25th in the league.
While some point to Wes Welker’s drop as the biggest reason the Patriots lost the Super Bowl, the fact is they were fortunate to be in a position to win, given how many holes their defense had. It was the defense that allowed 396 yards that night, including the nine-play, 88-yard drive that led to the Giants’ victory. Remember, the Giants scored a touchdown even when they weren’t trying to score a touchdown. The defense was that bad.
Clearly, the Patriots could find success without a strong defense, but even a slight improvement could have been enough to give them Super Bowl No. 4 last year.
While not all of those struggles can be placed on the defensive line, there certainly was room for improvement, and Bill Belichick made it a point of emphasis this offseason.
It began with the signing of Jonathan Fanene, a big, versatile lineman who had 6.5 sacks and 24 tackles last season. They then signed another big body in Trevor Scott, who has 13.5 sacks in his four NFL seasons with the Raiders.
In the draft, the Pats selected Chandler Jones with their first pick at No. 21, and they later added Jake Bequette in the third round.
Those additions were not without some losses, like Mark Anderson. However, Anderson capitalized on some garbage-time playing time to inflate his sack total to double digits last year, and while his loss will be felt, it will not be significant.
One potential loss that could be significant could be Andre Carter. The free agent is reportedly far apart from the Patriots in terms of contract terms. Certainly, given that the Patriots have depth on the D-line, and that Carter’s a 33-year-old coming off a season-ending injury in Week 15, the team has the leverage in discussions. It’s definitely in the best interest of both parties to work out a deal, as Carter was a great fit for the Patriots.
How much the Patriots’ defensive line improves depends a lot on the Carter situation, but regardless, Belichick addressed an area of weakness by adding depth and size to a unit that desperately needed it. Don’t expect the Patriots to trot out the No. 1 defense in the league, but it should be safe to assume you won’t have to worry about them setting any records for most yards allowed.