Editor's note: Each day this week, Jeff Howe will review the Patriots' 2010 season and preview 2011 by breaking down each position. On Tuesday, he looked at the wide receivers and tight ends. On Wednesday, he's looking at the offensive line and the defensive line.
There was a moment toward the end of the season when one of the Patriots' newly signed defensive linemen was speaking to the media in the locker room, and a very well-known teammate strolled by, looked first at the scrum and then up at the player's nameplate on his locker. He had no idea who the new guy was.
The Patriots were crushed by injuries along the defensive line late in the regular season, and they signed five defensive linemen in December and January. Over the course of the season, the Pats had nine players who were credited with a start on the defensive line, and five D-linemen were placed on injured reserve.
Defensive Linemen on Final Roster
Landon Cohen, Brandon Deaderick, Kyle Love, Eric Moore, Myron Pryor, Gerard Warren, Vince Wilfork, Ron Brace (injured reserve), Darryl Richard (injured reserve), Ty Warren (injured reserve), Kade Weston (injured reserve), Mike Wright (injured reserve), Marlon Favorite (practice squad)
Wilfork isn't supposed to rack up many stats in the Patriots' defensive system, but he was unblockable, ranking third on the team with 87 tackles. He also had two sacks, four quarterback hits, two pass defenses and one fumble recovery.
Wilfork and Gerard Warren (a free agent) held it down on the line, regardless of who was around them during the season, but the Patriots will be excited to get Ty Warren back to add some more stability. Ty Warren, who was placed on injured reserve two weeks into training camp, had surgery to correct a hip issue that bothered him for quite some time, so he'll be completely refreshed when he gets back at it next season.
Will the Patriots select a defensive end in the first round of the draft?
The Patriots could use another cornerstone defensive end to fit around Wilfork and Ty Warren, and this draft class is absolutely loaded on the defensive front, with quite possibly a dozen D-linemen earning first-round grades. With Wilfork's versatility along the line, the Patriots don't necessarily have to go after an end, but that would be the most ideal position to target early in the draft. They should be able to land a good one with the 17th pick, but it would be really enticing to see the Patriots trade up to draft a game-changer like Cameron Heyward from Ohio State.