The question: Has Richard Seymour’s role been properly filled?
Three factors: Ron Brace’s maturity and growth; How much does Gerard Warren have left; Will New England show more 4-3 looks this year
Finding the answer: The Sunday-morning trade of Seymour to the Oakland Raiders last August was a shocker, and one that it seemed the team never fully recovered from last year – and still may be trying to do. Seymour was a five-time Pro Bowl pick at defensive end, and the line of he, Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren seemed poised to work together for several more years.
But Seymour’s relationship with Bill Belichick never recovered after he was benched for a baker’s dozen of plays in a 2003 game after missing a practice that week to attend a family funeral, and the feeling around Pats’ brass was that he wasn’t willing to play hurt – an unfair assessment given that Seymour dealt with elbow and knee injuries for several seasons before
getting it all fixed before the 2008 season and returning to a high level of performance that season despite being held out of certain packages he had always played in.
Seymour was highly respected among his teammates, but he wasn’t the type of Patriot who would be first in line to dole out the team Kool-Aid and that made him a bit of a danger.
It was always believed that Jarvis Green would be a capable starter, but perhaps hampered by a knee injury which required in-season surgery, he had just one sack in 12 starts (13 games). Green is in Denver now, where he was given a multi-year free-agent contract.
So on the field, that leaves Mike Wright, Gerard Warren and Brace as top contenders to take the starting role opposite Ty Warren. Wright has played every role on the line since arriving in New England, and is a steady contributor. Gerard Warren was drafted ahead of Seymour in 2001, and started all 32 games over the last two years for Oakland; during mini-camp,he was with Wilfork and Ty Warren, though of course things can change. This spring, Brace candidly said that he simply wasn’t prepared last year for the mental rigors of being in the NFL, adding that he has put in a lot of work to learn the ins and outs of the Patriots’ playbook and has watched film for hours.
While it seems Brace will spend more time at end this year – given his size, he seemed a better fit at nose tackle – the odds are with Wright or Warren starting.
Of course, should New England play more 4-3 fronts as we saw last year, that could change things too. Damione Lewis has never played in a 3-4 system and has always been a tackle on four-man lines; if he and Wilfork are on the field together, which would take advantage of Lewis’ strength (a major part of Belichick’s coaching philosophy) that could change who plays end. With those big bodies clogging the middle, the Patriots could use players Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess at defensive end.