Patriots

Prototypical Patriots: Powerful defensive tackles from the SEC abound

Prototypical Patriots: Powerful defensive tackles from the SEC abound

For over a year now, Jerod Mayo has taken to our Quick Slants set and told anyone who will listen that the Patriots don't really play a 3-4 or a 4-3 anymore.

PHIL PERRY'S PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS DRAFT PREVIEW

The best way to describe what they do with their front-seven is as a "2-5," Mayo says, meaning the team has five athletic pieces -- interchangeable pieces, at times -- surrounding a pair of beefy space-eaters. 

Last season it was Alan Branch and Malcom Brown who saw the majority of the time in the middle, with rookie Vincent Valentine working his way into the rotation at times. In 2015, Akiem Hicks was in the tackle equation as was Sealver Siliga. In 2014, Vince Wilfork was critical mass on the interior.

What do they all have in common? All are at least 320 pounds, and Brown and Valentine -- New England's two most recent draft picks at the position -- are listed at that exact number. All have the capability to anchor down, two-gap, and funnel plays to their teammates behind them. 

The Patriots have dipped into the pool of lighter penetrating tackles in the past, with 2014 first-rounder Dominique Easley being the most obvious example. But Easley, for a variety of reasons, is now playing elsewhere. Same goes for last year's training-camp darling Anthony Johnson. 

With defensive ends on last year's roster who could rush from the interior like Trey Flowers and Jabaal Sheard, the need for the smaller, penetrating tackles seemed superfluous. Flowers was a revelation inside, turning himself into one of the most productive interior rushers in the league during the second half of last season. 

Who knows? Maybe because some of the depth at defensive end has thinned this offseason the Patriots will be back in the market for a pass-rushing tackle to help lighten the load. Or maybe free-agent addition Lawrence Guy (6-foot-4, 305 pounds) is that guy.

In general, though, when looking for interior defensive linemen who can make an impact on first and second down the motto for the Patriots seems to be "the bigger, the better."

There are plenty of big bodies in this year's draft class to choose from, and below are a handful who seem like the fits for what Bill Belichick wants in New England.

This is the fifth installment of a 12-part pre-draft series where we're looking into Prototypical Patriots at a variety of positions. To catch up on our first few cracks at this, head here for boundary cornershere for slot cornershere for linebackers, and here for safeties.

Dalvin Tomlinson, Alabama, 6-foot-3, 310 pounds: One of several Nick Saban pupils who will make their way to the NFL at the end of the month, Tomlinson is one of the best run defenders in the class and showed an improved ability to get to the quarterback last season. His long arms (33.5 inches) help him hold his ground on the interior and play bigger than his size. He doesn't reach the 320-pound threshold mentioned above, but his playing strength should allow him to hold up against double-teams at the next level. If the Patriots don't make their first pick until the third round at No. 72 overall, Tomlinson may still be there for them. 

Jaleel Johnson, Iowa, 6-foot-3, 316 pounds: Explosive off the line of scrimmage and in possession of a motor that never stops running, Johnson embarrassed interior offensive linemen for coach on his way to quarterbacks. He had eight sacks and 27 quarterback hurries last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Though he looks too eager to get up the field at times, he may be able to be coached into a more versatile three-down player who can two-gap on first and second downs and then tear up the field in passing situations. Brown learned to temper his instincts to get into opposing backfields on a snap-to-snap basis during his rookie season, and maybe Johnson, who played under Belichick's friend Kirk Ferentz, could do the same.

DJ Jones, Ole Miss, 6-foot-1, 319 pounds: Speaking of Brown -- the No. 32 overall pick in 2015 -- here's a player whose physical profile matches extremely closely to his. Brown entered the draft at 6-foot-2, 319 pounds with arms the same length as Jones' (32.5 inches) and hands a quarter-inch smaller than Jones' (10.25 inches). Their testing numbers are scary similar. Here's what Jones did at the combine (with Brown's combine numbers in parentheses): 5.04-second 40 (5.05), 25 bench reps (26), 28.5-inch vertical (29.5), 108-inch broad jump (98), 7.73-second three-cone (7.84), 4.65 20-yard shuttle (4.59). Jones' 40-yard dash, vertical and broad jump were better than those Vince Wilfork (6-foot-1, 323 pounds, 32.5-inch arms) posted at the combine in 2004, while Wilfork had a better three-cone, 20-yard shuttle and bench. Jones is projected to be a later-round selection because he wasn't as productive as perhaps he should have been (two sacks, three tackles for loss last season), but his combination of size and athleticism could make him an intriguing fit for the Patriots interior on Day 2 or 3. 

Josh Augusta, Missouri, 6-foot-4, 347 pounds: While speaking about Branch last season, Belichick famously said, "Guys that weigh 350 pounds and are athletic and long like he is, I mean they don’t grow on trees. They’re hard to find." Augusta wasn't even considered a starter during his last season at Missouri, but his unique size and quick feet (he was used as a fullback at times by the Tigers) might make him worthy of a selection late on draft weekend. He weighed closer to 400 pounds last fall, but according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he was diagnosed with a thyroid issue in January but has shed weight since, which helped him post a 5.12-second 40 time (which some had clocked as a sub-5.0 time), a 28.5-inch vertical, a 108-inch broad jump and a 7.9-second three-cone at his pro day. Though he only played about 50 percent of his team's snaps the last two seasons, guys like him don't grow on trees. Branch, 32, signed a two-year extension this offseason.

Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, USC, 6-foot-1, 331 pounds: As strong and difficult to move as any defensive tackle in this draft class, whichever team takes him will have to be OK with the fact that they'll get very little from him as a pass-rusher. But as a two-gapping tackle on first and second-down? Someone with good balance who can easily shed single-blocks and make plays on running backs looking for daylight? You could do much worse than Tu'ikolovatu late. 

Josh Tupou, Colorado, 6-foot-3, 353 pounds: Another lane-clogger on the interior, Tupou had solid production last season (45 tackles, four tackles for loss) and he's shown he has the size and strength to be able to anchor against linemen at the next level. Athletically he's limited, but for a sixth or seventh-round selection, picking up a first and second-down specialist with his size might have some appeal. After being charged with assault following a fight at a house party, Tupou sat out the 2015 season.

Jarron Jones, Notre Dame, 6-foot-6, 316 pounds: Jones has great length (35.5-inch arms) and could play a variety of positions along the defensive line, but according to NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, "scouts consider him unmotivated and question his football character." If you don't enjoy football and aren't prepared for the grind in New England, you won't last long -- and you might not even be on the Patriots' board. If he's misunderstood, that's something Irish coach Brian Kelly could explain to Belichick. Washington's Elijah Qualls (6-foot-1, 313) is another defensive tackle prospect with enticing physical ability who is thought be a boom-or-bust player, per Zierlein.

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.

Have the offseason changes negatively affected the Patriots locker room?

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Have the offseason changes negatively affected the Patriots locker room?

The Patriots improve their record to 4-2 with a win over the Jets, but there are still a lot of concerning factors for New England. Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen talk about something the team isn't used to - close games.

Giardi also dives into whether there is a major problem with the locker room dynamic, and whether all the moves they made in the offseason were blown way out of proportion by the media and fans of the talent added, but didn't factor in the personalities they lost.

Koppen and Giardi also look at how the offensive line play has fallen off, despite the same personnel as last year. Finally, discussing the late scratch of Stephon Gilmore due to a concussion. Anything to read into the timing?