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Countdown to Camp: Defensive Line

07.27.09 at 10:48 pm ET
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With training camp looming at the end of the month, WEEI.com will look at the 2009 Patriots in a daily position-by-position breakdown we’€™re calling ‘€œCountdown to Camp.’€ In today’€™s installment, we take a look at New England’€™s defensive line.

CURRENTLY ON THE ROSTER: Projected starters — Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour. Projected reserves — LeKevin Smith, Mike Wright, Jarvis Green, Ron Brace, Myron Pryor, Darryl Richard, Titus Adams, Stephen Williams.

A LOOK BACK: When healthy, New England’€™s front three was one of the best in the league last year. All three started at least 13 games in 2008, and proved again that they remain the bedrock of the Patriots’€™ defense.

New England’€™s front three had its issues — they were embarrassed when the Dolphins ran over them for 215 rushing yards in a 38-13 loss at Gillette Stadium on Sept. 21 thanks in large part to the Wildcat. But Wilfork and the others responded well the second time around, blowing up the Miami running game — they ran for just 66 yards the second time the two teams met in November.

Out of the defensive end spot, Seymour led the team with eight sacks — a bit of an anomaly for a 3-4 team. (It was the first time since 2001 that an outside linebacker did not lead the Patriots in sacks.)

A LOOK AHEAD: If contract situations don’€™t change, this could be the last round-up for one of the best defensive fronts the NFL has seen in the last 15 years — currently, Wilfork, Seymour and Green are all entering the final year of their contracts. Seymour is playing his cards close to his vest, while Wilfork has already made his contractual requests clear and Green has already made statements — which he later retracted — about this being his last season in a New England uniform.

Warren, who is signed through 2013, figures to be here for the long-term. Brace is an intriguing presence — I’€™m guessing the Patriots are eventually looking at him as a space-eater not unlike Wilfork. That’€™s not to say Brace could step in this season and play at the same level as Wilfork now. But at the same time, if Wilfork plays out his contract this season and New England slaps the franchise tag on him in 2010 before eventually departing, a two-year apprenticeship for Brace might be enough to get him up to speed.

Wright and Smith remain serviceable backups (the former predominantly on the nose, while the latter mostly at end), while Adams and Williams also project as backups this year. Pryor and Richard face an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster, and could end up as practice squadders.

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