Leading up to the first day of training camp, we’re going to look at the most important Patriots, counting down from 10 to 1.
7. FAT GUYS ON THE DEFENSIVE LINE
Why? With talent on the edges and at linebacker, you want a stable group that can stop the run. There’s a couple of players on this roster who have proven they can do so, and a couple that better start showing they can, considering where they were drafted.
Previous Performance: This was a good group last, season but not elite. They were coached well and allowed to play to their strengths. Alan Branch was a nice find after washing out in Buffalo. He’s a massive presence, hard to move, with surprising lateral quickness along the line of scrimmage. But is he a 50- or 60-snap player? Doubtful. Chris Jones is best in a limited role, which is what he settled into as last season progressed. Seaver Siliga is sound and gave the unit a charge late in the year after returning from injury, especially versus Miami and the Jets.
Questions surrounding the Group: There is no Vince Wilfork. And while Vince in 2014 wasn’t the Vince pre-Achilles injury, he still played at a high level, still played a much higher percentage of snaps than anyone else on the interior and there is no one, and I mean no one, better at giving a two-minute answer to an innocuous question. There are also two alleged high-end talents that we’ve either seen very little of (Dominique Easley, last year’s first-rounder) or not at all (this year’s first-rounder, Malcom Brown). If they are what some inside the building believe they can be, the fatties become a legit strength of the team. If they don’t . . .
Overall Outlook: I don’t love what’s here. Silaga has never been healthy for a full season. I believe Branch and Jones are what they are. It’s the X factors that may decide whether this group elevates, or there could be more nights like the one the Pats had in the playoffs versus Baltimore. Remember that? 129 yards for Justin Forsett, and fat guys on roller skates. That’s never a good look.