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Situation is firming up

Brace practices, still has shot with Patriots

Patriots defensive lineman Ron Brace seems none the worse for wear after his first full practice of training camp. Patriots defensive lineman Ron Brace seems none the worse for wear after his first full practice of training camp. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Robert Mays
Globe Correspondent / August 16, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — Following his first full practice of training camp yesterday, Ron Brace lamented the opportunities missed in the team’s first 22 practices. But with the timing of his return, he has another chance.

The second-year defensive lineman had missed every practice after failing a conditioning test to begin camp. After a rookie season that failed to meet his expectations and a vow to improve in 2010, missing the first 18 days of camp was not the start the former second-round pick from Boston College had envisioned.

“Every time we come out here, it’s an opportunity to get better,’’ Brace said. “I missed out on a great deal of those opportunities, but now I’m just trying to make up and catch up to the group.’’

With veteran defensive end Ty Warren going on injured reserve Friday with a season-ending hip injury, there is a void along the Patriots’ front line that Brace figures to have an opportunity to fill. He joins Damione Lewis and Gerard Warren as potential fill-ins for Warren.

When Brace was drafted in 2009, the conventional wisdom was that the 6-foot-3-inch, 330-pounder would give the Patriots another option at nose tackle; Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork’s contract situation remained uncertain at the time. But Brace said he has no problem with sliding into the vacancy left by Warren if asked.

“I say I’m basically whatever they want me to be,’’ Brace said. “I could be at left end, one day I could be nose, one day I could be at right end. I’ve just got to be ready for every position on that line.’’

New England’s two other main options at Warren’s position face a learning curve of their own.

Lewis has primarily played defensive tackle in a 4-3 during his career, which has included stops in Carolina and St. Louis. Playing defensive end in the Patriots’ system is different from playing defensive tackle in a 4-3, which involves being more aggressive.

“I think I’m getting the work in, I think I’m getting familiar and comfortable with what we’re doing,’’ Lewis said last week. “And you know, got three games to go and a long way to get there, so let’s keep working at it and keep working hard every day trying to get better.’’

“It’s just adjusting to what we’re doing and how we’re playing the blocking schemes and stuff like that. It’s a learning process and I’m going out and grinding it out every day and getting more and more familiar with it, getting more comfortable with it.’’

Gerard Warren has some experience in a 3-4, but the intricacies of each system he’s been in have required him to do plenty of studying on his own this camp.

Coach Bill Belichick said last week that Gerard Warren has shown a willingness to adjust his game to the new system, and that he thinks Warren is capable of aiding New England’s pass rush from the end position.

“I’m trying to work a different technique, penetrate, and get into the backfield, trying to work across the line, building a wall,’’ Warren said last week. “Still attack, but it’s patience as well. [It’s] organized chaos.’’

Brace said it felt good to be back on the field with his teammates.

“It’s hard any time a football player has to sit down and watch those other players practice,’’ Brace said. “But I’m back out here working, getting ready for this game coming up this week.’’ After traveling to Atlanta today and holding joint practice sessions with the Falcons tomorrow, the Patriots play the Falcons at the Georgia Dome Thursday.

Brace said that while he was sidelined he concentrated on learning the playbook and becoming more comfortable with the mental aspect of the game, an area he admits he struggled in last year.

“Basically, any player, it’s just each year you’ve got to try to work on and improve on any weaknesses you see from last year,’’ Brace said. “My weakness was trying to remember the football deal. I find myself being more aware on the field right now from a lot of studying that playbook and learning football as a game. It’s just not the defensive side. It’s the offensive side also.’’

That task would be harder if Brace is expected to know the responsibilities of more than one position, but after a year with the team and time during this camp to familiarize himself with the playbook, Brace said he feels he is more up for the challenge.

“I feel a little more confident,’’ he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the meeting room focusing on learning offensive tendencies, what the defense needs to do. I feel a little more mature, a little more comfortable [mentally].’’

Robert Mays can be reached at rmays@globe.com.

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