Only last year we were wondering whether or not Patriots defensive lineman Ron Brace was a potential bust-in-the-making (spoiler: No, he's not.) He was lost as a rookie because he was playing a tweener role as a potential replacement for nose tackle Vince Wilfork, as well as a potential defensive end. He stated that he was able to spend the off-season training for the defensive end position and caused an eye-roll everywhere when he couldn't pass the team physical. However, when he finally stepped on the field to replace the injured Ty Warren, Brace was nothing less than great. He exceeded all expectations (almost!) and was emerging as a more than solid run defender, as well as a two gap pocket pusher.
Unfortunately, after posting an impressive run in the middle of the season as he became comfortable in his role, Brace suffered a head injury and was unable to finish the season on a high note. He limped to the finish line, but his mid-season success should inspire confidence in the coaches as well as give Brace any additional drive necessary to let him know that he belongs in this league. This off-season will be crucial for Brace's development. Will he be able to step on the field after a shortened off-season? Will he be able to compete for a starting job? Can he push Ty Warren to the right defensive end position? Will Brace be able to start from Week 1?
I have full faith in Brace that he will answer all those questions with a resounding "Yes."Brace had everything needed in a left defensive end. The beef required to hold down double teams. The strength to disengage and stop the run. The force to push the pocket. The athleticism to open lanes for the linebackers. He was never a real threat to take down the quarterback, but he allowed other players to get into the backfield, which is exactly what's needed from Brace. The Patriots need Brace to help make the outside linebackers better.
Ninja made a great video where you can see Brace's impact as his role grows during the middle of the season. The Vikings are unable to run against him and he even moves his blocker to impede the runner. Brace can and will be able to do that for a full season and he'll further develop as a player.
A base defensive line of Brace, Wilfork, and Warren, with Brandon Deaderick and Marcus Stroud rotating in, should give the Patriots the best chance to stop the run and help the linebackers (I expect Mike Wright, Kyle Love, and/or Myron Pryor to help in the sub-defenses).
I hope Brace is working his butt off right now because he has the chance to be an impact player for this Patriots' defense.