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Patriots Defensive Front Takes Shape

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The Patriots released defensive lineman Kyle Love, making him the second lineman released this week. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
The Patriots released defensive lineman Kyle Love, making him the second lineman released this week. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

For the second time this week, the Patriots released a defensive lineman who has been fairly productive. Kyle Love went undrafted in 2010, but was picked up by the Patriots and has increased his value and production since his selection.

Love played in all 16 games in both the 2011 and 2012 regular seasons, and also contributed in the playoffs. The Mississippi State product recorded five and a half sacks in his three years with the team and registered 65 total tackles.

Love’s agent Richard Kopelman recently told ESPN that Love had been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes. He was released by the Patriots who cited a non-football injury as the reason for the designation.

With Love and Brandon Deaderick, who was released on Monday, no longer members of this Patriots defensive line, it would appear the team is employing the same “overhaul” strategy as it did with the wide receiving c offseason. Although with returning names such as Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich, it’s hard to say that this is a complete overhaul. So let’s maybe call it a makeover.

The Patriots found something good last season in Ninkovich playing opposite the then-rookie Jones on the ends of the defensive line. Both Jones and Ninkovich displayed explosiveness and the ability to disrupt the edge of an opposing quarterback’s pocket. And Vince Wilfork is an all-pro defensive tackle with quality run-stuffing ability and can occasionally get up the middle for a sack or two.

So some new additions this offseason to the line show that the Patriots are looking to move away from heavy-set run stoppers and more toward athletic, quick players.

The perfect example of that is the signing of Armond Armstead, a USC grad who spent the last year playing in the Canadian Football League. According to ESPNBoston, scouts with the Patriots told Armstead at rookie mini-camp that he would have been a second- or third-round draft pick in 2011 had he not suffered a heart attack before his projected final year with the Trojans.

ESPN LA reported that Armstead sued the school after team doctors gave him painkillers without telling him the side effects of the treatment.

That’s behind him now, and Armstead is ready to go. Armstead is listed as a defensive tackle at 6-foot-5, but weighs considerably less than Love and Deaderick at 290 pounds. He’s 22 years old, and scouts say very athletic. He could bring some versatility if he’s able to play on the edge as well.

The Patriots also added veteran defensive tackle Tommy Kelly earlier this offseason after his nine-year stint with the Raiders. Kelly is large, listed at 6-foot-6, 325-pounds. But as far as veteran defensive tackles go, Kelly can still perform at a high level. He told reporters upon arrival in New England that he really wanted to play alongside Wilfork. That could be a deadly combination in the Patriots’ 4-3 defensive front with Kelly and Wilfork rushing through the middle.

An interior pass rush can be undervalued in today’s league, and Bill Belichick clearly wants to move on from the sub-par middle rush the Patriots have had over the past few years. After spotty secondary play in 2012, the Patriots’ defensive kryptonite consisted of swing passes to athletic backs in the flat. In the two games the Patriots played against the Texans, Arian Foster accounted for most of the team’s offensive production on passing downs.

With quick, athletic linemen and good coverage linebackers, the Patriots are making up for what they lacked in 2012.

And if Chandler Jones can be the defensive end of the 2012 first six weeks (rather than the injury-riddled, underwhelming rookie), the Patriots should have a force to be reckoned with on the defensive front.