Checking the locks: Already strong at DE/OLB, Patriots aggressively add to group

As part of a preview for New England Patriots training camp (first practice July 30) and to re-familiarize ourselves with the roster, it's time to bring back the "checking the locks" series. Today, we continue with defensive end/outside linebackers.

Sure-fire locks: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers

On the bubble: Xzavier Dickson

Trying to get in the door: Jake Bequette*, Rufus Johnson

Analysis: The end-of-the-line defensive end/outside linebacker position was already strong with Jones and Ninkovich returning, and then the Patriots added a combination of toughness/experience (Sheard) and youth/upside (Grissom/Flowers) this offseason. This has potential to be a strong group, assuming Jones returns to full strength after missing time last season with a hip injury and then being held out of all spring practices. Also, the 31-year-old Ninkovich played more snaps than any defensive lineman in the NFL in 2014, so monitoring his odometer and potential wear and tear could be important. Sheard, who worked at both end spots in the spring, is physical and has the type of traits the team generally covets. With those three atop the depth chart, there is time to develop Grissom (third round, Oklahoma), Flowers (fourth round, Arkansas) and Dickson (seventh round, Alabama). Grissom is more of a hybrid type, with the potential to drop into coverage at times, while Flowers has the look of more of a pure defensive end. With the influx of personnel, Bequette has been working out at tight end. Johnson is a first-year player out of Tarleton State.

Checking the locks 2015