New England Patriots: Training Camp Battles to Watch

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Aug 31, 2013; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive lineman Dominique Easley (2) rushes Toledo Rockets quarterback Terrance Owens (2) during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida Gators defeated the Toledo Rockets 24-6. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In 2013 the New England Patriots interior defensive line was ravaged by injuries as veterans Vince Wilfork (Achilles injury in week four) and Tommy Kelly (right knee injury in week five). Canadian Football League alumni Armond Armstead spent the entire season on injured reserve with an infection and “clotting and other medical issues”. That left undrafted free agent Joe Vellano and scrap-heap pickup Chris Jones to man the position.

Jones and Vellano–while flashing occasional skills–were overmatched most of the season and were targeted by opposing team’s running games. The Patriots tried to bring in a veteran trading for Isaac Sopoaga. Sopoaga was ineffective and New England finally got a boost at defensive tackle when former Seattle Seahawks practice squad player Sealver Siliga was promoted from the New England practice squad and was a revelation at defensive tackle.

The Patriots addressed the defensive tackle position with their 2014 first-round draft pick by selecting pass rushing interior defensive lineman Dominique Easley out of Florida. Easley gives  New England a new dimension at the position as a penetrating rusher (albeit coming off a season-ending knee injury last season) rather than their typical big-body to stuff the run. With Easley, Wilfork back on a reworked contract, and Kelly re-signed as well, the Patriots have the two veterans, Siliga, Armstead, Jones, and Vellano fighting for likely four or five roster spots. This position could have the most competitive battle with players who started thirteen games (Jones) and eight games (Vellano) last year on the roster bubble.