Help is on the way for the New England Patriots ailing pass rush.
How, exactly, will former Toronto Argonauts defensive lineman Armond Armstead help the Patriots, and fit into their defensive scheme?
That all remains to be seen. But for now, he is exactly what they need: an athletic, versatile defensive lineman.
Dan Pompei of National Football Post (via Twitter) points out just how valuable and versatile Armstead is:
Armstead might not have the impact that Cameron Wake did, but he is viewed as a third to fourth round value. But NFL teams aren't sure what position he will play. The answer is he might play several positions, especially under the coaching of Bill Belichick in New England. Given his dimensions [6'5", 298 pounds], Armstead probably is best suited to be a five technique defensive end. But the personnel men I surveyed for this story also mentioned the following possibilities: three technique, nose tackle, and nickel rusher/outside linebacker in a 3-4.
Here's a chart to give you a better idea of what the different techniques are all about. A five-technique is responsible for the gap between the tackle and tight end, while a three-technique is responsible for the gap between the guard and tackle.
So, with so many possibilities, a lot is left to the imagination. There are, however, a few other clues as to what Armstead could bring to New England's defense.
Argonauts general manager Jim Barker told ESPN Boston, "[Armstead] played on the edge some in the 30 front [3-4] but not much. It wasn’t that he couldn’t do it, it’s that we didn’t play a lot of 30 front. He was moved around inside and was mainly an inside player for us."
That should be good news for the Patriots, who have struggled to create interior pressure for years. The role that was once filled by defensive tackle Mike Wright as the team's interior presence in sub packages has been a revolving door since his career was cut short by concussion issues.
- In 2010 (Wright's last year, with just 320 defensive snaps), the Patriots leaned on 543 snaps from defensive tackle Gerard Warren, along with a rotation of Ron Brace (285 snaps), Brandon Deaderick (258) and Myron Pryor (242).
- In 2011, Vince Wilfork played 1,173 snaps and Kyle Love played 696 snaps. Shaun Ellis was largely ineffective in 421 snaps, and Deaderick saw his snap total rise to 383. Gerard Warren (371) continued to contribute, as well. Albert Haynesworth (134) was released after eight games.
- In 2012, Wilfork (1,041) and Love (591) once again carried a significant load. The Patriots utilized defensive end Jermaine Cunningham (487) as an interior pass-rusher in some nickel packages. Deaderick (467) once again saw his snap total increase. Defensive ends Justin Francis (301) and Trevor Scott (289) were the only other defensive linemen to carry a significant workload in 2012.
As we can see, over the years, the Patriots' options on the interior defensive line have been dwindling.
The Patriots filled their need for an edge rusher in drafting Chandler Jones with their first-round pick last year, but the question now becomes whether they will continue to run the 4-3 alignment we saw in 2012 or if they will eventually shift back to the 3-4.
Scheme is dictated by personnel, so it's not difficult to imagine that happening, especially if Armstead turns out to be a gem. It would also allow for Rob Ninkovich to return to his more suitable role as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Wilfork is versatile enough to not only play both schemes, but to play multiple positions within those schemes. He was moved around in the 3-4 front quite a bit in both 2010 and 2011.
By now, however, we should know that the Patriots will never be solely in either front; they want players to be versatile enough to switch between the fronts. Trying to pin them down as either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense is an exercise in futility.
Since he has less experience in the 3-4, though, expect to see him earn the bulk of his workload as an interior linemen in four-man fronts, at least in the early going.
For now, Belichick is probably just happy to have an athletic defensive lineman to add to the Patriots' defensive arsenal.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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