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Five thoughts on how Patriots might try to replace Vince Wilfork

09.30.13 at 7:14 am ET
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Vince Wilfork

Vince Wilfork

Five thoughts on what the Patriots might do after losing Vince Wilfork:

1. If Wilfork is indeed lost for a serious stretch, the Patriots could make the shift to a three-man defensive front, utilizing Tommy Kelly on the nose and Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich as defensive ends. Kelly does have some positional versatility in that area, but in the past, he hasn’t sounded all that crazy about the idea of working as a nose tackle in the 3-4. It remains to be seen if he’d change his tune now that he’s here in New England, but it doesn’t seem like a realistic, long-term possibility. It would present the intriguing possibility of the Patriots — who have played a TON of nickel through the first four games — to go with some sort of 3-3-5 scheme as opposed to the 4-2-5 which they’ve favored to this point. That could make for some interesting personnel combinations, and also open the door for more playing time for linebacker Brandon Spikes.

One short-term possibility could be the increased use of Jones as a defensive tackle — the Patriots shifted the Syracuse product down from the defensive end spot on a number of occasions over the first four games in hopes of creating chaos on the interior for guards and centers, and the long and lean Jones has done well in that role. (Rookie Michael Buchanan filled Jones’ spot at defensive end.) However, the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Jones is lighter than your usual defensive tackle, and so it’s questionable how he’d be able to hold up against the run on a consistent basis. But for 10-15 snaps a game, it remains a distinct possibility.

2. The Patriots could go out and sign someone to serve as an extra defensive tackle. There are several veteran free agents who are still in the market — frankly, it’s just a matter of determining who still has some tread on their tires and who is done. Casey Hampton and Sione Po’uha are two guys who certainly fit the mold as space-eating defensive tackles who are still available, but you’d have to gauge their interest in a return to the NFL even before you discussed the possibility of a workout.

3. Interestingly, several of the guys who are out there have connections to New England. Richard Seymour, Ron Brace and Kyle Love are three free agent possibilities. (Given the history between the two sides, it might be a bit of a longshot to say Seymour would return to New England. But you never know.) A second-round pick out of Boston College in 2009, Brace was considered a bit of an underachiever in his stint with the Patriots, and was cut loose late last year. And Love was released this past May after it was revealed he had Type-2 diabetes. He was quickly claimed by the Jags, but was a victim of the final round of cuts before the start of the season. The 25-year-old has had workouts with the Niners and Seahawks since the season began, but hasn’t hooked on with any other team to this point. Nicknamed “Mini V” because of his playing style and his unabashed love for Wilfork, he’d be an intriguing possibility if everything was equal. There’s always the possibility of a trade, but that market is unclear, at least at this point in the season.

4. The Patriots do have some possibilities currently on the roster, including Chris Jones and Joe Vellano. The 6-foot-2, 306-pound Jones, a sixth-round pick out of Bowling Green who was picked up off waivers from the Texans earlier this month, was pressed into service Sunday night when Kelly was out for a spell. He teamed with Vellano, a 6-foot-2, 200- 300-pounder out of Maryland who played well in spot duty through the first four games of the season. (Vellano had his first sack of the year Sunday night when he busted through the line in the second half and took down Matt Ryan.) In addition, two practice squad possibilities are A.J. Francis, a former college teammate of Vellano who checks in at 6-foot-5 and 316 pounds who was added from the Dolphins earlier this month, as well as Marcus Forston, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound defensive tackle who has spent a year in the system (most of the time working as a practice squad guy) learning at the foot of fellow Miami product Wilfork.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Patriots don’t need to do anything. In a series of Tweets early Monday morning, Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders made an interesting case for standing pat, saying that other teams have done as much in the past when they’ve lost a comparable defensive tackle, and the difference has been negligible.

5. The Patriots do have a couple of guys who might be able to fill the spot, but their hands are tied, at least for the next few weeks. At 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds, Armond Armstead is a pass rushing lineman who is more of a defensive end than tackle, but does have some positional versatility and could kick inside. However, the former CFL sack king is currently on the reserve/NFI list because of a medical issue (surgery for an infection), and is eligible to return to action in a few weeks. In addition, Cory Grissom, a rookie defensive tackle out of South Florida who was placed on IR this summer and will be out for the entire 2013 season.

Read More: A.J. Francis, Armond Armstead, Casey Hampton, chandler jones
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