Pats Go Deep...On
By Chris Timoney, Patriots Insider
Long before Tedy Bruschi’s medical scare in February, way before Brady & Belichick hoisted Lombardi Trophy number three above their heads in Jacksonville and most definitely before the 2004 campaign even started, the Patriots knew that they’d have to inject youthful depth into one of the most talented defenses in the league. Depth helps, but aided by youth, depth can be even more of a potently productive possession.
There's always pressure to repeat as champions, and in the New England Patriots case, there's an additional layer of pressure to keep a football dynasty on track. In these days of free agency, that's tough to do, yet Pioli and Belichick have found a way. Can they do it again is a question that won't be answered for another 6 months, yet some intriguing pieces have been added while others were kept from the waiver wire; pieces that will surely fly low under the radar of most headlines; pieces that defensive coordinator Eric Mangini will have an interesting time assembling once camp opens in July.
Here's a look at some of these players that the Patriots hope can sneak up on some unassuming NFL offenses:
New England's re-signing of Don Davis keeps a player on the roster who's versatile, knows the system, and is a seasoned veteran- a very seasoned veteran. Davis, who proved serviceable as a rotation linebacker and a fill-in defensive back, enters his tenth NFL season and his second with the Patriots.
A signing that warrants more focus among the linebacker core is that of Monty Beisel. Beisel spent the first four years of his career with the team that drafted him out of Kansas State, the Kansas City Chiefs. A converted defensive end, Beisel is capable of playing at all three linebacker positions which he showed while in KC. Beisel worked out of the right linebacker position behind Shawn Barber two years ago and last season saw more work on the left side of the defense behind Scott Fujita.
In Monty's "spare time" the Chief's had him working out of the middle linebacker spot in nickel packages. Beisel's ability and experience at all three linebacker positions will prove key this season as long time vets such as Ted Johnson, Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, Larry Izzo and the aforementioned Davis are all well into their careers with a lot of tread on their tires. Not only does Beisel's experience as a defensive end aide in the pass rush from the outside, but Beisel used to play running back in high school and still possesses tailback like speed which will come in handy when defending the run.
Beisel has great sideline-to-sideline quickness which he also displays on specials teams. In short, Monty should be kept very busy in this defensive unit. And should this years secondary incur the same problems as last year, Beisel could be last season's Don Davis and find himself covering wideouts in the secondary.
Aside from nose tackle Keith Traylor, the guys up front are relatively young, led by All-Pro Richard Seymour. Jarvis Green is only in his fourth NFL season and Ty Warren is just a pup heading into his third season. Don't forget that last year's second round draft pick Marquise Hill is also very young, and has yet to see any playing time. With Hill's height at 6'6", it would be a shame if he was unable to crack the rotation at defensive end. He certainly could bat down a few passes while giving Seymour a breather.
Two other guys up front who could aide in allowing the starters to catch some rest, keeping them fresh for the post-season, are a pair of players that have been in Foxboro all along. Twenty-five year olds Rodney Bailey and Ethan Kelly were with the team all last season and are ready to contribute to what hopes to be another Super Bowl run in 2005.
The 6'3" 300 pound Bailey was signed by New England last March as a restricted free agent after spending his first three seasons playing for the Steelers. Pittsburgh drafted Bailey in the sixth round of the 2001 draft out of Ohio State and the former Buckeye proved serviceable in a reserve role. In 48 games for the Steelers, Bailey notched one start and often made the most out his opportunities. He participated in all 48 games for coach Bill Cowher. In one game against Cincinnati in 2002, Bailey registered a career high 2.5 sacks joining many other NFL defenders in the club of "those who have sacked Tim Couch."
The advantage Bailey has is that he’s got a few years experience playing in the 3-4 defense and has shown the ability to get into the pocket and cause some havoc. Bailey spent the 2004 season with the Patriots on the IR as he recovered from surgery in August to repair a torn achilles tendon suffered early in camp. Rodney is expected to make a full recovery and be ready for camp in July.
Defensive tackle Ethan Kelly was re-signed by the Patriots back in March and is another young guy anxious to contribute on the defensive line. Kelly, originally drafted by New England in the seventh round of the 2003 draft (4 picks after Tully Banta-Cain), spent most of last season on the inactive list after spending his rookie season with the practice squad. Kelly was activated in 2004 and played sparingly in the regular season finale versus the 49'ers and recorded his first NFL tackle.
Kelly, 6'1" 300lbs, started his college career at Baylor on the left side of the offensive line working out of both the guard and tackle position. Before Baylor’s 2001 season, Kelly was moved to the defensive side of the ball where his career as a nose tackle began. After a season of getting used to the position, Kelly shined during his senior campaign. He lead Baylor in tackles, and was a constant nuisance in the backfields of opposing offenses.
Due to the fact that he’s not the normal 330 plus NFL nose tackle, Kelly is able to use his quickness off the snap, and at Baylor showed an array of moves to work of solo blockers. His experience on the offensive line gives him a slight mental advantage, as he has a working idea of what the opposing lineman may or will be doing in a certain situation.
Ethan was originally a defensive tackle in high school back in Sugar Land, Texas so he’s back in his original position. The major obstacle that he must overcome is lack of playing time, getting in game situation reps. The move to the offensive line at Baylor accompanied with limited playing time in the NFL has stunted his development as a true NFL caliber nose tackle.
With all that transpired last season on defense for New England, the organization realizes that at any given time, a bench player may be called upon to play. They must be comforted knowing that they’ve got fresh, young players ready to do what coach Belichick demands of his reserves...to step up and be productive when called upon.
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