FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots will hold their first public training camp practice on July 27. As part of the lead-up to camp, I'll spotlight one position each weekday to highlight the team's personnel and some of the storylines of note.
We covered wide receivers, offensive linemen, running backs, tight ends and quarterbacks last week, before moving on to the defense this week with linebackers and defensive ends. Today, it's defensive tackles.
Roster locks: Branch, Brown, Valentine, Guy
Carbon copy of 2016 plus a Guy: The Patriots return their top three -- Branch (60.1 percent playing time), Brown (57.2) and Valentine (27.5) -- and add Guy to the mix. At 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds, Guy has a different physical makeup from the others atop the depth chart, as his length and strong play against the run are assets. The re-signing of Branch to a two-year deal was a significant part of the team's productive offseason.
Health report: Branch was the lone player on the roster who didn't participate in the voluntary offseason program, and when he reported for June's mandatory minicamp, he worked off to the side. Skipping the offseason program was expected; no reason was given for his working on the side during minicamp. ... Guy wasn't present at the final stretch of spring practices for undisclosed reasons. ... Augusta's conditioning was a concern in spring practices as he noticeably struggled to keep up with the group while running penalty laps.
What can Brown do for you? Brown, the 2015 first-round pick from the University of Texas (No. 32 overall), didn't make the sizable second-year jump some projected. He still was effective and is arguably the team's most athletic defensive tackle; at 6-foot-2 and 320 pounds, he can hold his ground against the run at times and also be a factor as a penetrating pass-rusher. One thought for 2017: Can Brown elevate his play to a higher level?
Rookie report: Augusta (Missouri) and Butler (Vanderbilt) both were signed after going undrafted. Augusta received $16,000 in guaranteed money and Butler landed $20,000 in guarantees. That put them in the middle of the pack financially among the team's undrafted class.
Stat check: The Patriots led the NFL by allowing just six rushing touchdowns, which tied for the second-lowest total in team history. The club didn't allow a rushing touchdown in the final eight games of the regular season.
Quote of note: "Branch, by far, has been our most consistent tackle. Those other guys can shoot to get up to his level." -- Bill Belichick, on Dec. 27, 2016.