Of all the positional groups on the field for the New England Patriots, I think the group of defensive tackles is the most interesting. Yes, the battle among the receivers should be fun, and who knows what will happen at tight end. But with all the talent converging in the trenches of this defense, I think this group will be easily the most fun to watch come training camp time.
First off, you have the mainstay, Vince Wilfork, who is coming off a bad foot injury. Wilfork is one of the best run stoppers in the game, but when you combine his healthy with his age, he may not be as effective in 2014. Hopefully his rehab is going well, so he can return to the dominant player he once was, and keep the Pats run defense among the best in the league.
The real intrigue begins with who will start next to Wilfork. You have rookie Dominique Easley, who flashed incredible talent, but is injury prone. Tommy Kelly is a proven veteran in this league, however he is coming off of an ACL injury from the 2013 campaign. Sealver Siliga and Chris Jones played well in emergency duty last year, although I wouldn’t feel that comfortable with either of them starting. And finally, ‘the mystery man’, Armond Armstead could be a factor in this rotation if he can stay healthy.
In my opinion, assuming his knees are okay, I think Easley should start next to Wilfork. Easley’s explosive jump off of the ball is something you have to respect as an opposing offense, and he could really open up this defense with pressure up the middle. New England hasn’t had someone that could bring a pass rush from the interior in quite some time, but Easley certainly has the tools to become that guy. Some don’t like his ability to play the run, and while he definitely is much better in rushing the passer, he is competent in the run game. Having Wilfork next to you will help as well, in addition to the strong group of linebackers standing behind them.
With that said, I think the real strength of this unit is the depth behind Wilfork, and whoever Bill Belichick decides to start next to him. If Easley does in fact start, you have Kelly, Siliga, and Jones all ready to come in and make some noise. This will allow everybody to be as fresh as possible, which is important for these big guys up front. The worst possible thing for a defense is to have a gassed defensive line, because once that happens, the opposing offense will have no problem pushing them back, and moving the ball however they please.
Of course, all of this will go down the drain with another major injury. Even though I doubt the injury situation will be as bad as last year, injuries are a part of football, and you have to be ready to adjust when necessary. Having good depth will help if this particular scenario plays out, but New England would be much better off if they could avoid big injuries up front, and play to their full potential.