AP Photo/Paul Spinelli
Patriots DL Ron Brace.Patriots third-year defensive end Ron Brace returned to practice Tuesday after starting the season on the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list due to an elbow injury that ended his 2010 campaign. The Patriots have three weeks to activate Brace (or put him on season-ending injured reserve). He expressed great excitement in finally being able to get back on the field and start working out with his teammates again.
So, assuming he's healthy enough to add depth to this defensive line, what can we expect from Brace? It will be interesting to see if the switch to a base 4-3 defense helps bring a little bit more out of Brace, who played the tackle spot at Boston College. Adding him to the defensive line rotation, alongside the likes of Vince Wilfork, could lead to more of an impact performance than what we've seen in his first two seasons.
We went back to the film vault this weekend to watch a bunch of Brace's 2010 snaps. Here's a few of the positive plays, along with a quick look at the play that ended his season in Buffalo:
BRACE VS. BROWNS
Brace made a stop on Peyton Hillis the play before and the Cleveland back, who ran wild on the Patriots in this game, headed to the sideline for rest. Mike Bell entered and the Browns again ran the ball out of a power formation with two tight ends, two backs, and one wide receiver. Look how Brace, playing left end, blasts right past the right tackle and into the backfield. That alone forces the running back to cut back towards the middle of the field, but -- in a play very similar to the one-armed stop Albert Haynesworth made on Reggie Bush earlier this season -- Brace pulls down Bell with one outstretched arm, while being dragged down himself (insert).
BRACE VS. COLTS
Similar to what we saw in Cleveland, but this time Brace pushes a guard backwards while penetrating into the backfield, once again forcing the running back to cut inside with the running lane blown up. Even with help coming from the other side, Brace does a nice job of shedding his defender and assists in the tackle (inset) for a loss.
Generally, Brace fared well against the run last season and being thrust into a 4-3 defense might only aid that. He was less sharp against the pass, but here's one intriguing possibility: More zone blitzes with Brace able to showcase his athleticism by dropping into coverage.
"They dropped him and [B.J.] Raji a lot [at Boston College]," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said last week. "They played a lot of blitz zone and those guys were in coverage a decent amount of time. That’s a scheme they played."
BRACE VS. BEARS
Against the Bears, the Patriots utilized Brace as a nose tackle -- really the only extensive time he didn't play left end in 2010 -- and he had maybe his best game in the pass rush. In this first-quarter play, he applies pressure on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler after a play-action fake, forcing him to scramble to his right. More impressively, Brace pursues the play and ultimately chases Cutler down from behind (inset).
Brace's injury was sort of a mystery because he never required the sort on-the-field attention from trainers that you might expect for a season-ending injury. But Brace noted the other day that the injury happened while playing his normal technique and, sure enough, it's barely noticeable on the tape.
Early in the second quarter of a Week 16 game in Buffalo last year, Brace and Bills tackle Mansfield Wrotto simply engage at one end of the line as the running play heads towards the other. You can see Brace grab at his right elbow after the play.
Amazingly, Brace went back to the huddle and stayed on the field for another snap before taking himself out of the game. As he noted before his first practice of the season Tuesday: "I went to the sideline, found out it wasn’t attached any more."