The New England Patriots have faced a pair of disappointing season-ending injuries over the past week. Veterans Torry Holt and Ty Warren have both been placed on injured reserve and neither will see any time in 2010.
Holt's injury is less of a letdown than Warren's. The Patriots are stacked with youth at wide receiver. It's unclear whether the Patriots would have even kept him on the roster, or if he would have been cut by the end of preseason. Now, it's unclear whether the future Hall-of-Fame receiver will retire or return in 2011.
Warren's is a much bigger loss for the Patriots, who rely heavily on their defensive linemen to collapse the pocket and hold down their blockers. He had missed a bunch of time over the past few seasons, so the Patriots have gotten used to life without Warren, but that doesn't make it any easier.
As Ty Warren steps off the field and under the knife, who will step up for New England?
Of no relation to Ty Warren, Gerard figures to be a key cog in New England's defense this year. He was already becoming a shoe-in for a heavy workload, but Ty Warren's injury is icing on the cake for the big man.
It helps that Bill Belichick says he thinks that, "He will have a good ability to contribute for us this year based on what I’ve seen so far."
Gerard has had an impressive training camp, and really looked good in the preseason opener against the Saints. he showed the ability to hold his blockers and press the pocket. He's played most of his career in the 4-3 scheme, but seems to be picking up the 3-4 techniques pretty well. With injuries depleting the depth of the line, Gerard may be called upon to make use of his versatility on a frequent basis.
Much like Gerard Warren, Damione Lewis figured to have a big role in rotational time for the Patriots defense. He and Warren could split time at either or both end spots with Ty Warren officially done for the season.
He has played in the 4-3 defense as a defensive tackle throughout his career in Carolina, but comes to a 3-4 defense and may be asked to quickly learn the scheme and its nuances. Bill Belichick noted that, "He’s a smart guy and a very experienced guy and he’s been able to make the adjustments to our system and our style of play."
He could be asked to step up with Ty Warren down, and Bill Belichick may be totally comfortable with that.
Tully Banta-Cain had a breakout season in 2009, and was the only double-digit sack specialist for the Patriots last year. He did most of his work from Warren's side of the field.
Without Warren there to hold down the blockers, though, will Tully be able to fly as freely to the quarterback as he did last year? It will be up to one of the aforementioned defensive linemen to make Banta-Cain's job easier by fitting the mold of a 3-4 defensive end and holding ground while Banta-Cain makes the sack.
This one may seem like a stretch—mainly because Meriweather and Warren play positions in the defense that are about as far apart from each other as possible.
Warren has always been exceptional in run defense, and although his back-up—whoever that may be—may prove effective, Meriweather may be asked to play more in run defense.
Meriweather has been superb in pass coverage, intercepting nine passes over the past two seasons. Playing run defense means his presence may not be felt as strongly against the pass, as he may be spending more time closer to the line of scrimmage than before.
As usual, it will be up to the wily "evil genius" Bill Belichick to come up with a plan to lessen the blow of the losses. New England is no stranger to the labeling of "duct tape bandits," as they won Super Bowl XXXIX with a group largely comprised of fill-ins with several of their key players down with injury.
The wheels have been put in motion with several of these players seeing time on the practice and playing field already. The question now becomes, can he prepare them and utilize them to achieve week-in, week-out success?
As it was put by Belichick, "He's missed quite a bit of time the last couple of years, so we've had to deal with that anyway." It's safe to say that this may not be as crushing of a blow to the Patriots defense as some think, or hope, it may be.
In fact, Warren's production has slipped significantly over the years, dipping from 7.5 sacks in 2006 to four sacks in '07, then to two the next year, and one last year.
Is this a loss the Patriots can overcome as a team, as they always have? Or will this cripple their defense much like Richard Seymour's departure did last year?