By agreeing to terms with Damione Lewis over the last few days, the Patriots brought in a player who can bring that kind of push in the middle. While Lewis never became the player the Rams thought he’d be when he was taken 12th overall in the 2001 draft (he became a full-time starter for the first time in his eighth NFL season), he has proven he can rush, evidenced by his 22.5 career sacks.
But what might be more important here is creating a legitimate rotation up front. If you look at the playtime numbers from 2007 and 2008 (thanks, Pro Football Focus) versus those in 2009 for the New England defense, you see that a legitimate six-man rotation inside shrunk to five in ’08 and four in ’09. When the Patriots had a full complement of players, it was Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Mike Wright and Green on the field (Derrick Burgess did see some action inside, but was mainly an edge player), and the group suffered when Warren and Wilfork were hurt.
Adding Lewis could help lighten the load on the other players and, in turn, make them more effective over the long haul. The further development of Myron Pryor and Ron Brace would also help.
This, I believe, is one of the under-the-radar areas where the Patriots could improve in 2010. The way New England employs defensive linemen, in a two-gap style, makes depth of the essence, as the physical demands of those positions can really wear guys down.
So if the Patriots are deeper here than they were in 2009, then their front-line players should be better equipped late in the year and into the playoffs. And that’s where a guy like Lewis, and guys like Brace and Pryor, can make the team better just by earning playing time.