Super Early Projected Patriots Starters: Defense

Linebacker and captain Jerod Mayo is projected to return to the Patriots' line-up this fall. - US PRESSWIRE

With training camp just weeks away, we take a look at the projected Patriots' starters on defense, and how they have changed since 2013.

After recently taking a look at the projected starters on offense, we now take an early look at the projected starters on defense for 2014, and the major changes from 2013.  

Week 1, 2013:

LE: Rob Ninkovich
DT: Tommy Kelly
DT: Vince Wilfork
DT(sub): Joe Vellano
RE: Chandler Jones
WLB: Jerod Mayo
MLB: Brandon Spikes
SLB: Dont'a Hightower
LCB: Aqib Talib
RCB: Alfonzo Dennard
FS: Devin McCourty
SS: Steve Gregory

AFC Championship 2014:

LE: Rob Ninkovich
DT: Chris Jones
DT: Sealver Siliga
DT(sub): Joe Vellano
RE: Chandler Jones
WLB: Jamie Collins
SLB: Dont'a Hightower
MLB: Dane Fletcher
CB1: Aqib Talib
CB2: Alfonzo Dennard
SCB: Kyle Arrington
FS: Devin McCourty
SS: Steve Gregory

Projected Starters for 2014:

LE: Rob Ninkovich
DT: Vince Wilfork
DT: Tommy Kelly
DT (sub): Dominique Easley
RE: Chandler Jones
WLB: Jamie Collins
MLB: Dont'a Hightower
SLB: Jerod Mayo
CB1: Darrelle Revis
CB2: Brandon Browner
SCB: Logan Ryan
FS: Devin McCourty
SS: Duron Harmon

Thoughts:

The projected changes on defense heading into 2014 are rather dramatic, considering the way the unit limped to the finish line in 2013. The big key for the Patriots is that they are getting several key injured starters back from season-ending injury. Those starters are defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly and linebacker Jerod Mayo.

Wilfork presumably returns at one defensive tackle spot in his space-eating role.  The other defensive tackle spot is really up for grabs.  Candidates for that starting role include Tommy Kelly (in the role above), Chris Jones, Will Smith, Sealver Siliga and rookie Dominique Easley.  The dark horse here is Siliga, but I have to wonder if his skill set mimics that of Vince Wilfork a little too closely.  He'll be a factor in run-stuffing scenarios and will likely give Wilfork some rest, but the team may want more of a penetrating defensive tackle to go along with Vince.

At defensive end, things remain constant from 2013, with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich back in their starting roles.  The only question here is who becomes the 3rd defensive end?  Linebacker remains relatively constant too, with the big boost coming from the aforementioned return of Jerod Mayo.  It will also be interesting to see how the team handles the linebacker rotation in sub-packages.  Dont'a Hightower proved capable of being a 3-down linebacker late in the season.

The Patriots' defensive backfield has also had a big shake-up from 2013.  The only carry-over I have from week one of 2013 is free safety Devin McCourty.  Strong safety Steve Gregory was released and has been replaced by second year pro Duron Harmon in the line-up.  The other candidate to start there is Patrick Chung.  Both of the boundary corners have been replaced with the team's signings of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.  Revis is a guarantee to start at one spot, while Browner is the heavy favorite for the other spot.  However, it is important to note that Browner is serving a four game suspension to start the season, so that opens the door for Logan Ryan or Alfonzo Dennard to take that position.  Kyle Arrington is also in the mix as the top slot cornerback.

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What are your thoughts on my projected starting line-up for the defense?  What changes would you make?

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