In the wake of Dominique Easley’s release last week, one noteworthy ripple effect is the likelihood that Terrance Knighton will take on an expanded role with the New England Patriots in 2016.
Look, ever since the defensive tackle-depleted season of 2013, Bill Belichick has been stocking up on the interior of the defensive line. That much was made clear by the drafting of defensive tackles in the first round of each of the last two drafts (Easley in 2014, Malcom Brown in 2015) as well as the signing of Alan Branch in 2014. And most recently, the offseason additions of Knighton, Markus Kuhn and Frank Kearse.
However, for Knighton in particular, the departure of Easley will translate into significantly more playing time.
Had Easley not been released, the depth chart at defensive tackle would have looked like this: Brown, Branch, Easley and then Knighton. But without Easley in the picture, Knighton will be knocking on the door for a more involved role.
Should Knighton, who turns 30 this summer, display better burst than the 31-year-old Branch, then the Patriots may elect to give Pot Roast more playing time. Without a doubt, rising star Brown will be the No. 1 guy, but it will be interesting to see how the two hefty veteran defensive tackles fare against one another in training camp competition.
Of course, Knighton has to trim a bit. He does have a weight clause in his contract, but Knighton recently told reporters that “whatever the coaches want me to play at, that’s what I’ll be”, so hopefully weight won’t be a hindrance for Knighton.
It should also be noted that Easley and Knighton are two completely different types of defensive tackles. While Easley was one of the NFL’s best interior pass rushers last season, Knighton is more of a plug, as his 350-pound frame suggests. However, the Patriots have two of the best interior pass rushers in linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, so as long as Knighton can preoccupy his blocker, those two stars ought to satisfy interior pass rushing needs.
Stay tuned here on Musket Fire for coverage on every twist and turn in the Patriots’ offseason.