DL Ron Brace: Year 3 jump ahead?

Bill Belichick often says that the biggest jump a player makes is between his first and second season. Along those lines, Len Pasquarelli of The Sports XChange writes on the second-year defensive linemen across the NFL, and who rose above the rest in 2010.

"When it came to last season's second-year defensive linemen, players like Ziggy Hood of the Steelers and Oakland's Matt Shaughnessy made quantum leaps," Pasquarelli writes. "On the flip side, Robert Ayers (Denver), Peria Jerry (Atlanta), Aaron Maybin (Buffalo), Jarron Gilbert (Chicago), Everette Brown (Carolina) and Ron Brace (New England) failed to take giant steps forward."

It's hard to argue with Pasquarelli's analysis of Brace, in part because of a slow start in which Brace opened training camp on the non-football injury list, and later sustained a season-ending elbow injury Dec. 26 in Buffalo.

But that doesn't mean Brace, a 2009 second-round pick, still doesn't have a chance to emerge.

In 2009, Brace was effectively red-shirted. He played just 50 snaps all season (30 in one game).

Last season, Brace saw his playing time increase, as he appeared in 25 percent of the defensive snaps, primarily at left defensive end. He was credited by coaches with 28 tackles (19 solo, 9 assists), production that doesn't jump off the stat sheet, but which represented a step forward in his progression from the year before.

Earlier this week, some of the team's under-the-radar linemen were highlighted and how their development will add important depth to the group. Brace could have been included, although he's far from under the radar.

After not selecting a defensive lineman in the draft, the Patriots are counting on him taking a bigger step forward in 2011.