FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Eleven months ago, defensive tackles Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga were not even on the New England Patriots roster. Now, their injuries have become so crucial that the Patriots felt it necessary to respond by supplementing their depth chart.
Two trades later, the Patriots have bolstered their depth a little with two defensive tackles.
According to his agent Chafie Fields, Jerel Worthy has joined New England from the Green Bay Packers. Nick Eatman of DallasCowboys.com also reported that Ben Bass has been dealt from the Dallas Cowboys to the Pats.
The trades are both pending physicals, so it's possible that one or both could still fall through, but the message is clear: The Patriots are hoping to create more competition for roster spots at defensive tackle.
"I wouldn't say we're thin," said defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. "We're alright. We have enough to get things done. I like our depth. I like the way coach is using us so far. Everything feels fine to me.
"Trades can help the depth but they still gotta make the team (laughs). Wouldn't be the first time Bill traded for somebody and released him at the same time. So I mean, he can trade for you but he can also send you back home, too. You still gotta make the team."
Kelly may be fine with the depth, but the picture tells another story—especially when you take into account the current injuries:
Source: Patriots.com (highlight = injured)
Marcus Forston has spent most of his career on the Patriots practice squad, while Eathyn Manumaleuna and L.T. Tuipulotu have yet to make any waves in training camp.
Jones has missed the past three practices after injuring his ankle in the first preseason game against the Washington Redskins. Siliga injured his left hand during joint practices in Richmond, Virginia, and was spotted at CBS Scene in Foxborough wearing a cast on his hand and with his arm in a sling.
Rookie defensive tackle Dominique Easley has recently begun participating in practice, though only in individual drills to this point. He also still spends roughly half of his practice time doing conditioning drills on the side.
With any good fortune, Easley appears to be on a path to be ready for Week 1. However, no timetable has yet been laid out for his rehab.
In that sense, calling in the cavalry in the form of Worthy and Bass is an interesting decision to begin with.
Worthy tore his ACL in the final game of his rookie season and is currently rehabbing from a back injury he suffered while weightlifting earlier this offseason. Bass landed on injured reserve last season with a separated shoulder and has been hobbled by a hamstring injury that has kept him out of Cowboys practices this summer.
With that said, it's possible that the Patriots are onto something. Worthy was a coveted player in the 2012 NFL draft, where he was taken 51st overall in the second round.
#Patriots acquiring Jerel Worthy is a pretty big trade for the pre-season. Another interior penetrator— Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko) August 12, 2014
Charlie Campbell of Walter Football raved about his potential, while pointing to his inconsistencies:
Worthy has been one of the better defensive tackles in the Big Ten over the past couple of seasons. ...
There were stretches in games where Worthy was utterly dominant. When he took on Wisconsin in two games, he would be blocked well for a portion of the game, before wrecking havoc in the backfield for a quarter.
On another, he was blocked to the ground as Ball ran straight ahead for a touchdown (the very next play on the highlight reel).
The explosiveness is there, but the consistency needs some work.
It's hard to tell whether Worthy will be a fit in the Patriots defense, mostly because it's still not entirely clear exactly what kind of defense the Patriots will run.
They have been practicing a lot in their 3-4 defensive front but have run mostly 4-3 looks over the past few seasons and have drafted a lot of personnel that seems to fit that scheme much better.
Campbell continued about Worthy's fit:
Worthy looks like he would be best as a one-gap penetrator in a 4-3 defense. He could play the three-technique in a Tampa-2 defense that requires a quick tackle to fire through the gap. Worthy is at his best when he is trying to get into the backfield to make plays. ...
While Worthy probably is a better fit in a 4-3 defense, he could play the five-technique as an end in a 3-4. His ability to hold his ground could set the edge and free up outside linebackers. However, that may not be the best use of his talents.
Bass is also considered a smaller, penetrating type of defensive tackle. At 6'5" and 294 pounds, he does not appear to be a fit in a two-gap scheme, which asks its defensive linemen to control the gaps on each side of the offensive lineman in front of them.
He has played in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 scheme, but the defensive linemen were allowed to get upfield in both systems.
Perhaps the Patriots will not ask their defensive tackles to two-gap in this version of the 3-4, or perhaps they envision Worthy and Bass as rotational players in multiple defensive fronts. Perhaps the Patriots simply want to make sure they have all their bases covered in the event of a string of injuries, which is what they have on their hands right now.
It's worth mentioning that if the Cowboys and Packers were willing to trade Bass and Worthy, respectively, they were probably both long shots to make the roster—or simply too mired with injuries.
The sooner the Patriots get back to full health on the defensive line, the better off they will be.
In the meantime, Worthy and Bass have an opportunity to make a name for themselves as potential backups. If they are ever asked to do anything more than that, that probably means the Patriots have a situation on their hands similar to last year's: an avalanche of injuries.
Unless otherwise noted, quotes obtained firsthand.