Patriots Training Camp Preview, Part 6

Welcome to part 6 of our Patriots Training Camp Preview! If you missed parts 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 click the number to check them out!

Defensive line is a place emphasized in the Patriots scheme, not for the stats you see in the box score, but for their ability to influence the offensive blocking schemes. When the Patriots defensive lineman are at their best, they are occupying multiple blockers as linebackers and defensive ends run around after the QB and/or ball carrier. That’s a very simplified version, but it’s a very important part of the Patriots scheme, especially with the stable of linebackers currently on the roster. So which defensive lineman will do the best job? We look at them 1 by 1 here!

Jabaal Sheard (left), Malcolm Brown (middle) and Alan Branch (right) celebrate Brown recovering a fumble in 2015.

Jabaal Sheard (left), Malcolm Brown (middle) and Alan Branch (right) celebrate Brown recovering a fumble in 2015.

# NAME AGE SEASONS COLLEGE
97 Branch, Alan 31 10 Michigan
90 Brown, Malcolm 22 2 Texas
96 Knighton, Terrance 30 8 Temple
93 Sheard, Jabaal 27 6 Pittsburgh
92 Grissom, Geneo 24 2 Oklahoma
99 Valentine, Vincent 22 R Nebraska
98 Flowers, Trey 22 2 Arkansas
65 Johnson, Anthony 23 2 LSU
94 Kuhn, Markus 30 5 North Carolina State
70 Vellano, Joe 27 4 Maryland
74 Hamilton, Woodrow 23 R Mississippi

Alan Branch has been in the system the longest and needs to be the tone setter for the Patriots defensive lineman. He has proved he has that ability the last couple of years. He was placed on the non-football related injury list, which is a little concerning, but is often a workaround for players who may not be able to pass Belichick’s conditioning test at the start of camp, to get closer before taking the test and avoiding a failure.

Malcolm Brown is the future of the Patriots defensive line. He showed excellent promise in 2015 starting 12 games in the regular season and 2 in the playoffs. He ended up with 3 sacks and 3 fumble recoveries as well, neither of which are a primary responsibility, but shows an ability to take advantage of situations when presented them.

Terrance Knighton has long been a favorite nose tackle of mine to watch. He was in Jacksonville and started immediately as a rookie and hasn’t looked back heading to Denver and then Washington. He isn’t going to shine on the stat sheet, but you will notice his impact, especially when he is paired with Branch or Brown inside with speed rushers outside.

I loved the Jabaal Sheard signing a year ago and it proved to be a very worthwhile signing as he came in and worked on the inside and outside of the defensive line in a very effective manner, getting the QB for 8 sacks and forcing 4 fumbles as well. I think he will see less time on the interior rotation and can potentially become an even bigger pass rushing force as a defensive end, so he really fits on this list and tomorrows. 

Geneo Grissom a 2015 3rd round pick wound up on the defensive side of the ball 12% of the time and working on special teams 28.6% of the time. Good numbers to build on for a rookie, but in line with 3rd round expectations. With a year under his belt Grissom could make a nice jump as a rotation and situation player with Sheard.

Vincent Valentine was a 3rd round pick in the 2016 draft and with his size should be able to contribute immediately, even if it is just on occasion in the rotation. He is the type of player Belichick likes to have in the rotation and on the roster as a development piece.

A 4th round pick in 2015 Trey Flowers only had 1 game appearance in 2015, but the Patriots like him, but will need to see something in training camp and preseason games for him to stick. Size wise he lines up closer to a Sheard than a Branch, Brown or Knighton, so I expect that he is used in a similar way.

Anthony Johnson spent 2015 either on practice squads or out of a job. That doesn’t bode well for him as a guy likely to crack the Patriots defensive line rotation. He is likely here for depth and could make the practice squad should the chips fall properly.

Markus Kuhn was signed away from the Giants his time there was moderately productive as a rotation guy. He is here for depth and could wind up on the roster depending on a bunch of different factors, but is far likelier to wind up looking for a job the first week of September.

Vellano is back with the Pats after spending most 2015 on the street/with the Pats/Colts practice squads. I imagine it is going to be a short stay.

Woodrow Hamilton is a undrafted rookie free agent signed by the Pats out of Mississippi, but its very likely that his stay on the Pats roster is going to be far shorter than the run of Hamilton on Broadway.

Starters: Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown
Rotation: Terrance Knighton, Jabaal Sheard, Geno Grissom, Vincent Valentine
In Case of Emergency: Anthony Johnson, Markus Kuhn
Practice Squad: Woodrow Hamilton
Cut: Joe Vellano

Here is the compilation of my roster guess through today:

QB 4 RB 5 WR 6
Tom Brady Legarrette Blount Julain Edelman
Jimmy Garrapolo Donald Brown Danny Amendola
Jacoby Brissett Dion Lewis Chris Hogan
Unsigned Veteran James White Nate Washington
Brandon Bolden Malcolm Mitchell
Matthew Slater
TE 4 OL 8 DL 8
Rob Gronkowski Nate Solder Branch, Alan
Martellus Bennett Sebastian Vollmer Brown, Malcom
Clay Harbor David Andrews Knighton, Terrance
A.J. Derby Shaq Mason Sheard, Jabaal
Bryan Stork Flowers, Trey
Adrian Waddle Valentine, Vincent
Tre Jackson Johnson, Anthony
Cameron Fleming Kuhn, Markus
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