FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Through the first stretch of training camp, it seems fair to say that we've spent more time analyzing the Patriots' offense. The significant changes on that side of the ball make it a natural storyline.
In doing so, the work of the defense -- which some could successfully argue is more important to the championship hopes of the Patriots -- has been somewhat overshadowed.
On Monday, a commitment was made to focus more on that side of the ball, then follow up with captain Vince Wilfork after practice.
If the season started today, the front seven projects this way:
DT: Vince Wilfork/Tommy Kelly
Wilfork (6-2, 325) and Kelly (6-6, 310) look like a strong combination inside, with the flexibility to play end in an odd front (3-man line) if the Patriots want to vary their looks.
Returning starters Jones (6-5, 265) and Ninkovich (6-2, 260) are hybrids at end, which creates options. For example, if Jones aligns more inside the tackle than his more regular wider split at end, Ninkovich can stand up as an end-of-the-line linebacker on the other side and it creates more of a 3-4 look for the unit.
The same flexibility exists among the linebacker trio of Mayo (6-1, 250), Spikes (6-2, 255) and Hightower (6-3, 270), with Hightower capable of playing an end-of-the-line role if called upon. Top draft choice Jamie Collins (6-3, 250) is usually the first linebacker to rotate into the mix and his initial work has seemed to come more in coverage.
While certain areas of the roster have been managed injury-wise through the early stretch of camp, the front seven isn't one of them, which has helped it establish a foundation on which to build.
A few general observations: There now seems to be more speed at linebacker, Jones looks primed to build on his six-sack rookie season, defensive tackle depth is thin and the continuity of having most of this group returning has them starting at a higher point than last year.
As for the secondary, there have been more moving parts because of injuries, and there is also more competition for top spots.
Put it all together and what are Wilfork's thoughts on the defense so far?
"I feel very confident with where we're at as a defense at this point in camp," he replied. "I'm not saying we have all the answers. I'm not saying we are where we need to be. But at this point in camp, to be where we're at defensively, I'm very, very happy with that.
"The only thing it does is speed up the process now," he continued. "There are things we can do now that we don't have to wait two weeks to do, or wait another week to do, because we have guys that have been around and been in the league that understand this defense or understand football in general. So you can do things a little bit more. We have some positions out there that are like that.
"I'm just very happy with where we're at as a defense ... but we're far from where we need to be."