Despite some of New England's offseason acquisitions, the Patriots are not making a swift transition to a 4-3 base defense. There will, however, be a good mix of 4-3 again in 2010, breeding the question: How much 4-3 will the Patriots play next season?
Before signing with the Patriots, Damione Lewis made a point to call a group of friends who have made the transition from a four-man front to a three-man front, signaling that Pats head coach Bill Belichick doesn’t have any big plans to overhaul his favorite base defense. But with the additions of Lewis, who has almost exclusively played in a 4-3, and Gerard Warren, who has played in both bases, it's clear that Belichick will continue to use a four-man line in 2010.
The Patriots also drafted defensive tackle Kade Weston and defensive end Brandon Deaderick. Each are long shots to make the roster, but they'll provide competition for defensive linemen Mike Wright, Myron Pryor, Derrick Burgess and Ron Brace. Also keep in mind the Patriots drafted Jermaine Cunningham, who will convert from defensive end to outside linebacker. And then, obviously, New England returns defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and defensive end Ty Warren.
It's debatable, but the Patriots might have more depth on the defensive line than at linebacker, where they employ Jerod Mayo, Gary Guyton, Tyrone McKenzie, Brandon Spikes, Tully Banta-Cain, Pierre Woods and Rob Ninkovich, among others. That could potentially yield more 4-3 packages in order for Belichick to put his 11 most talented defensive players on the field at one time.
In a related matter, New England's strength on the defensive line — providing the signings of Warren and Lewis pan out — could also create more of the nickel packages with a four-man front that Belichick utilized last season. Many times, the Patriots used four defensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs, with safety Patrick Chung or cornerback Jonathan Wilhite as the package's nickel back. If Belichick plans to continue using that formation, that could also explain his desire to add Warren and Lewis.
In any event, the Patriots have plenty of depth and versatility on the defensive side of the ball. They probably won't end up with a traditional group of 11 starters in 2010, but New England's dedication toward mixing it up will keep more players involved — and, by translation — more players ready to contribute on a game-by-game basis.
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