ATLANTA -- It's the obvious question: Who might the Patriots sign to fill the considerable void created with Vince Wilfork reportedly tearing his Achilles?
Most likely option. A practice-squad promotion for first-year player Marcus Forston or rookie A.J. Francis.
Forston is a University of Miami alum who has been mentored by Wilfork, also a Miami alum. The Patriots liked Francis enough to claim him on waivers from the Dolphins at the final roster cutdown. Either player would add depth behind Tommy Kelly, Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, who are already on the roster.
If the Patriots stay in-house, the biggest trickle-down effect is that it will likely mean an increased role for Vellano, who opened the year as the third tackle. The undrafted rookie from Maryland averaged 26 defensive snaps per game through Week 3. His snaps obviously spiked considerably higher than that on Sunday night.
Vellano (6-foot-2, 300 pounds), a hard-working player who might be considered undersized by NFL standards but who wins with technique (e.g. third-quarter sack versus Peter Konz on Sunday), was one of the surprise stories of training camp.
Armstead another in-house option, but status unclear. First-year player Armond Armstead, who isn’t eligible to practice until after the sixth week because he’s on the reserve/non-football illness list, is more of a wild card. It is unclear if the former Canadian Football League player, who the Patriots were initially counting on as a No. 3 option at defensive tackle before he underwent surgery for an infection before training camp, will be ready to help the team this year.
Those with past connections. Kyle Love and Ron Brace remain free agents, and while the Patriots released both players in hopes of moving on, perhaps the team would now view them differently with Wilfork injured. In more of a long-shot scenario, Richard Seymour would also fall into that category.
The pure nose tackle type. Similar to when the Patriots traded for Ted Washington in 2003, and then brought in Keith Traylor in 2004, the Patriots could tap the veteran market for a big-bodied, two-down nose tackle type. Would someone like longtime Pittsburgh anchor Casey Hampton have anything left, assuming he'd even be interested? The concern, in general terms, is that an older, bigger nose tackle who hasn't been in a training camp usually is often viewed as a greater injury risk. That's why this is viewed as a less likely option than an internal promotion.