With Tom Brady starting to peek over his shoulder and the New England Patriots defense on the precipice of greatness, first-round pick Dominique Easley's impact needs to be as sudden as Clint Eastwood and as deep as Morgan Freeman.
Brady hasn't shown signs of a decline in his play, but the presence of Jimmy Garoppolo on the roster signals the inevitable. The Patriots need to win, sooner rather than later. The defense, meanwhile, has seen the high-profile signings of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner solidify the secondary, leaving only the pass rush as a possible stumbling block.
As the play above illustrates, Easley is all about sudden athleticism. Quick-twitch movements, a lightning-fast first step and a nose for sniffing out cracks in the offensive line allow him to live in the offensive backfield.
It remains to be seen whether all of Easley's athleticism will be at his disposal following his second ACL tear. Former Florida and current Seattle Seahawks coach Dan Quinn thinks he'll be just fine, according to Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal.
He really has some unique skills because of that unique quickness that he has. I think when you combine those two things — mentally strong and tough, and then add the initial quickness part of it — I think he’ll find his own role how he can help the team. I think once that starts to work itself out and when he gets healthy, he’ll be rolling.
Easley's impact on the Patriots' defense needs to come as quick as he gets off the snap. With a defense primed to defend receivers, the defensive line is going to need to provide pressure to get the offense back on the field.
Easley may only have logged 5.5 sacks during his college career, but his impact on those around him will be felt in the NFL. Move an NFL quarterback off his spot with quick penetration and suddenly the offensive line is blocking the wrong area. Bill Belichick said it best to Paul Perillo of Patriots.com after Easley was drafted:
I think his stats may have been deceiving. There were times when he didn’t get the sack but he was the disruptive player who was responsible for the play. He’s a smart, versatile, instinctive guy. There’s not much not to like about his game.
Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich have to be licking their chops to play beside the young rookie.
Jones and Ninkovich won't be the only benefactors of Easley's presence. Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly—both on the wrong side of 30—will like the extra rest they'll receive, but sub-package linemen like Chris Jones and Joe Vellano might receive way too much rest for their liking. Perillo continued:
In Easley the Patriots picked up a guy who should be able to immediately contribute as part of sub packages as an interior rusher assuming he’s healthy, and eventually he could replace the veterans full time.
He’s a bit smaller than some of the behemoths like Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and other two-gapping defensive linemen Belichick has employed in the past, and that appears to be an indication that the Patriots intend to continue their trend of looking for more speed up front on defense.
If Easley starts as a pass-rusher on third down, where does that leave Jones and Vellano? One of them will likely be on the outside of the 53-man roster looking in. If Armond Armstead is healthy, they both could be gone.
If everyone is healthy, I see Chandler Jones and Ninkovich manning the edges—being spelled by Michael Buchanan and Zach Moore—on all three downs, with Wilfork and Kelly patrolling the interior on the first two. Easley and Armstead would switch in for the two behemoths in clear passing situations. Limiting Kelly and Wilfork's snaps should have a beneficial impact over the course of a 16-game season.
If the Patriots' defensive line can get into a good rotation, Easley's presence will give opposing offensive linemen fits when choosing who to double. Imagine the center plopping down in front of four Patriots capable of rushing the passer, ears pinned back. As Eastwood said in Sudden Impact, "Go ahead, make my day."
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