The Patriots have one of the best defensive tackles in the league in Vince Wilfork, but they have made a notable effort to bring in someone to help him out this offseason.
First, it was the signing of CFL defensive linemen Armond Armstead. On Monday, the Patriots reportedly signed former Raiders defensive tackle Tommy Kelly to a two-year deal.
The competition is heating up headed into the offseason, and the defensive tackle position could be the latest example of the volume approach which we highlighted on Going Deep a few days ago.
Here's a quick reset on the Patriots battle for playing time at defensive tackle.
Weight: 295 lbs.
Scouting summary: The Patriots were clearly after an upgrade in athleticism in adding Armstead, with the thought of what he'll do for them to be deal with later. He could very well prove to be versatile between three- and four-man fronts, but he was used almost exclusively as an interior defender in a four-man line.
Since he has less experience in the 3-4, though, expect to see him earn the bulk of his workload as an interior linemen in four-man fronts, at least in the early going. The Argonauts GM Jim Barker described Armstead to Mike Reiss as "an above-average pass-rusher who plays the run well." Adding Tommy Kelly on a two-year deal may give them the time they need to develop Armstead into a similar role.
Weight: 305 lbs.
Scouting summary: Deaderick's versatility has helped him remain one of the only constants for the Patriots at defensive tackle over the past three years. His snap count has risen in each of the past three seasons, a strong indicator that the coaching staff felt he was their best option on the roster.
He can line up either as a tackle in the 4-3 defense or as an end in a three-man line. He is at his best against the run, as he lacks the agility and range to make an impact as a pass-rusher.
Weight: 305 lbs.
Scouting summary: The Patriots are never shy about taking a chance on a player with athletic upside that they hope can develop into a star. That's what they added when they picked up Forston as an undrafted free agent. He has great initial quickness and burst off the snap, but there are some flaws in his technique that still need coaching.
Forston played a total of eight snaps in 2012, appearing in a Week 3 loss against the Ravens, and spent the rest of the season on the practice squad. He was called up to the active roster for the AFC Championship Game, but did not play. He's going to have to perform better than the competition at training camp to make the roster.
Weight: 325 lbs.
Scouting summary: Kelly provides the veteran presence at a youth-loaded spot for the Patriots. In fact, aside from Vince Wilfork, Kelly is the only player above the age of 26 at defensive tackle. Oakland's constant switching back and forth between a 3-4 and 4-3 was probably frustrating for Kelly at the time, but it will serve to his benefit in New England where the Patriots will often switch schemes during the course of a game.
Field Yates had a fantastic write-up on Kelly, in which he pointed out that Kelly "brings more pass-rush skills to the table than either [Kyle] Love or Deaderick," but that he won't be as successful against the run. If he's nearly as effective of a pass-rusher now as he was from 2010 to 2011 (46 hurries, 17 hits and 15 sacks, got pressure on 12.4 percent of rush attempts), he definitely has a spot on this team.
Weight: 315 lbs.
Scouting summary: Love spent most of his 2010 rookie season either on the practice squad or the bench, with just 155 snaps in nine regular season games, but he earned 566 defensive snaps in his second year and 556 in 2012.
Love has the abilities as a two-gap run-stuffing defensive tackle that make him a fit for what the Patriots have done for years on the line, and he has 49 career run stops and just six missed tackles on 65 total tackle attempts.
He has lined up all over the line for the Patriots, at either defensive tackle spot in four-man fronts, and either at defensive end or on the nose in a three-man line. He is not a great pass-rusher, but he has the size and strength to carry out his assignment in a two-gap system and will most certainly be on the roster come 2013.
Weight: 305 lbs.
Scouting summary: Pryor immediately became a big part of the Patriots defensive game plan even as a sixth-round pick in 2009, earning 284 defensive snaps as a rookie. That being said, his time may be running up. He has yet to emerge beyond his backup role in his four-year NFL career, and he has played just 36 snaps over the past two seasons due to health issues.
The Patriots would like to use Pryor as an interior rusher, with 366 of his 559 snaps (65.5 percent) coming as a pass-rusher. He wasn't incredibly successful, though, logging pressure on 22 of those snaps. He's going to have to develop more pass-rush moves to get more effective in that area if he wants to make this roster.
While none of the linemen provide the total package in terms of run-stuffing and pass-rushing abilities, this is a well-rounded, versatile group.
With both Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick entering contract years, this is a big year for both of them as well as for the Patriots to find out what they have in each for the long-term. They have sent that message loud and clear by creating a competition that consists of both a veteran that's ready to take their spots now and a young player who could potentially fill a roster spot for the future.
That, and they're simply doing what they always do: covering their bases.
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