Braced for work ahead
FOXBOROUGH - When the Patriots defense stopped the Eagles for no gain on their final play in last week’s preseason opener, rookie defensive lineman Ron Brace was the main reason why.
Brace dug in and held his ground, closing the hole where the play was designed to go and creating the opportunity for fellow rookie Darryl Richard to make a tackle. He received no credit in the form of statistics, but instead, had a few bouquets later tossed his way by coach Bill Belichick.
It was hard-nosed efforts like the final defensive stand on third and 1 - which resulted in David Akers missing a 43-yard field goal to help the Patriots hold on for a 27-25 win - that had Belichick praising Brace’s first NFL performance.
“He handled himself well, maybe a little bit better in the game than in some of the practice opportunities,’’ Belichick said this week. “He certainly has a long way to go, like all the rookies do, but I thought he was strong at the point of attack. He had some opportunities in the passing game where he was able to get some penetration in the pocket, was in on a couple tackles, made a play in short yardage. More importantly, he played his technique well and was pretty stout at the line of scrimmage.’’
Brace, the Springfield native who played at Boston College, was looking to build on that performance heading into last night’s preseason contest against the Bengals at Gillette Stadium.
Although he might have appreciated Belichick’s plaudits, he spoke as if he hadn’t heard them.
“There is a lot of fundamental work to be done,’’ he said, unsatisfied with a four-quarter per formance in which he totaled two tackles and showed impressive speed for a 6-foot-3-inch, 330-pounder by chasing running back LeSean McCoy on a 16-yard run.
“It’s still early. The season hasn’t even started. Every time I look at a game, I just see ‘What did I do wrong? What do I need to fix?’ so I can be ready for the next week.’’
Brace said that such an approach, which he adopted in playing 49 games (40 starts) at BC, has helped him in striving for higher goals. One of those goals was playing in the NFL, and he detailed one moment when he knew he had arrived - when he was crunched by an Eagles double team.
“That was my welcome to the NFL moment,’’ Brace said, smiling. “That they actually drove me back, and I just realized that I need to go back more on my technique even more, just going back to the fundamentals in each practice. I could have taken that double team on even better if I was quicker and had better hand placement. It basically woke me up when they knocked me back down, but I got back up.’’
Brace has played a variety of roles along the defensive line for the Patriots, at times lining up at end, and other times at tackle in the 4-3 alignment. He also projects as a nose tackle in the 3-4 defense, which the Patriots didn’t play against the Eagles.
That has created a sharp learning curve for Brace, but he feels he has support from his fellow linemen.
“I can say every veteran has helped me, the whole D-line, I could ask anyone from Mike Wright to Richard Seymour to Ty Warren about any position because I know they know it,’’ he said. “That’s part of our job, to know every position because you never know who is going to go down and wherever you’re going to be needed. They’re seasoned vets and they’ve been through it.’’
Brace was set to go through his second preseason game last night, hoping to take the next step in what has been a steady progression through training camp.
“Getting that first NFL game out of the way, just getting those little butterflies out of your stomach, that was a big relief,’’ he said. “Now, I can be a little more comfortable, not as nervous. It gives me more of a drive to do better.’’
Mike Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.