The New England Patriots decision to sign Tommy Kelly this offseason could pay off big time, because one of the biggest needs for the Pats going into the offseason was a better interior pass rush. Kyle Love was a very good run-stopper, but he offered nothing as a pass rusher. Meanwhile, the backup DTs were atrocious, with Brandon Deaderick being an especially poor option as the third defensive tackle on the roster. The Patriots pass rush was non-existent, and the only person who wasn’t a liability against the pass was Vince Wilfork last season.
Even if Armond Armstead misses significant time with an infection, the Patriots interior rush looks a lot better than it did last year and for a couple of years to come thanks to the signings of Kelly and Armstead. Tommy Kelly, in particular, has a chance to make a huge impact immediately on this defense, and he termed it correctly when he referred to playing with the Patriots as a “golden opportunity”. He has the chance to not only be an impact player for a Super Bowl contender, but Kelly can also boost his own stock by playing next to Vince Wilfork, who is an unquestioned leader. Not only that, but Wilfork will swallow up blockers and free up Kelly to rush the passer, and one quick look at Kelly’s measurables and past performance tells you that he can be an elite pass rushing DT.
It sounds like Kelly is motivated, and he has shown in practice that he still has the tools. The New England Patriots have a perfect bounce-back candidate in Tommy Kelly, and he could play a critical role as the starting DT next to Wilfork this year.
Kelly spoke about the importance of having a strong defensive line, and his quote invokes the saying “it starts up front”. Via CSNNE, “That’s the starting point for any great defense. Just like with any great offense, the starting point is always going to be the O-line. If you’ve got a great offensive line, you’ve got something to build from. So if you’ve got a great defensive line, you can always put yourself in good positions, 2nd-and-long situations, or put yourself in a situation where you don’t have to blitz all the time and you can just rush four. So I think any time you can have a real good D-line, that’s the benchmark of a great defense.”
The New England Patriots could have that sort of a defensive line with a potential breakout year looming for the already solid Chandler Jones, a top DT in Vince Wilfork, a top pass rushing DT in Tommy Kelly, and quality starter Rob Ninkovich on the other side. If some of the depth guys like Jake Bequette or Justin Francis can break out, then the Patriots will be well on their way to solving the pass rushing woes that haunted them last season.