Early indications from training camp sessions over the past two days point to a change in defensive philosophy for the New England Patriots.
The Patriots have done this before, practicing in a 4-3 front early and switching back to their standard 3-4 later on.
Perhaps the Patriots are simply installing their new ideas early and will revert to their bread and butter 3-4 defense later on. The repetition factor must play a role on some level, as the Patriots only ran a full-fledged 4-3 on four defensive snaps, according to ESPN's Stats & Info blog.
What sets this year apart from last year, though, are the roster moves in association with the (speculated) switch in style. The Patriots went on an undrafted free-agent signing frenzy, picking up Alex Silvestro, Aaron Lavarius, Clay Nurse and Jeff Tarpinian.
Tarpinian played linebacker in college, but the other three played 4-3 defensive end in college and were projected to play outside linebacker in the 3-4.
Then, of course, were the two biggest roster moves of the past few days. Those of course being the release of Ty Warren and the trade for former Washington Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.
Haynesworth was notably upset with his role in the 3-4 last year, and was widely considered one of the best penetrating defensive tackles in the game as a member of the Tennessee Titans. A switch to the 4-3 would allow him to utilize his skill set to do what he does best.
The release of Warren, however, is a bit puzzling. He played defensive end in the two-gap scheme, and played inside as a pass rusher in the sub package. However, his parting words were somewhat foreshadowing of the team's new direction.
"I think the team was looking to do some things differently on defense and I wasn't in the plan," said Warren of his release in an interview with Comcast Sports Net's Tom E. Curran.
He reveals even more in an interview with ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss.
"I think it looks like they're trying to get away from the 3-4...When I heard about the different defensive deals they're going to be doing, I didn't see me in that big picture of things, or at least not a huge role in that deal. Then there were the acquisitions they made [Haynesworth], which made it even more [likely]."
From a personnel standpoint, the move makes sense. The primary defensive ends in today's practice were Markell Carter, Jermaine Cunningham and Eric Moore.
All three are rooted in a 4-3 defense, having played it in college. Moore's journeyman career has seen him play mostly end.
Silvestro, Lavarius, Nurse and Tarpinian got their chances at the end spots, as well.
At defensive tackle, the primary names were Vince Wilfork, Mike Wright and Kyle Love. Ron Brace also saw some time at defensive tackle.
The primary linebackers in this formation were, from left to right, Gary Guyton, Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo. Spikes was typically the primary middle linebacker, and on the outsides, Dane Fletcher and Marques Murrell also had opportunities.
Who knows if this will be a continuing trend into the regular season, or even throughout training camp. Bill Belichick isn't the type to leave any stone unturned, and perhaps he thinks there could be some buried treasure underneath this one.
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