When the Patriots selected defensive lineman Ron Brace in the second round of the 2009 draft, they naturally liked his physical traits. At 6-foot-3 and 330 pounds, Brace was one of the bigger, more powerful defenders available that year.
But Brace, who grew up in Massachusetts and attended Boston College, never emerged as he or the team hoped. It is a reminder that size is a good place to start along the d-line, but more needs to come together (e.g. technique, footwork) in a player's development.
As a rookie, Brace worked as a backup nose tackle in the 3-4 alignment behind Wilfork, who was in the final year of his contract. Initially, Brace was viewed as insurance in the event Wilfork departed as a free agent.
But by the end of the year, the Patriots knew that Brace, who played 4-3 defensive tackle at BC, wasn’t a fit on the nose (he seemed to play too high at times). That tilted some leverage in favor of Wilfork at the negotiating table as he signed a five-year, $40 million deal in 2010.
In his second season, Brace was used at left defensive end in the 3-4, and it was the spot in which he made his most significant contributions, although he never carved out a full-time role.
But by his third season, Brace was passed by 2010 rookie free agent Kyle Love on the depth chart.
And with the team shifting to more of a 4-3 this year, Brace returned to the defensive tackle position but couldn’t break through, playing just 92 snaps.
In all, he played in 39 regular-season games (7 starts). He was scheduled for free agency after the season and it was unlikely that he would have been back in New England.
The Patriots have Wilfork, Brandon Deaderick and Love as their top three interior defensive linemen, with Marcus Forston on the practice squad. This is an area the club is likely to address in the offseason, via free agency or the draft.