Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots camp battles: Defensive tackle

3-Technique Defensive Tackle

Starting Candidates: Tommy Kelly, Chris Jones, Dominique Easley

The defensive line is one area that projects to be a strong point for the New England Patriots this season, specifically at the defensive tackle position. Big Vince Wilfork is back from injury. He’ll anchor the front four at the nose tackle spot, but it’s yet to be determined who will start beside him at the 3-technique tackle position.

Last year Tommy Kelly held claim to the role prior to suffering a season-ending injury. Kelly is currently on the physically unable to perform list. It’s unclear to when he’ll return. His absence from the practice field presents a prime opportunity for one of the younger guys to step up, wow the coaching staff and secure a starting job in the lineup.

The 33-year-old Kelly played in just five games before a torn ACL opened the door for Chris Jones last season. Jones was unknown to many when Bill Belichick introduced him into the mix, but he was quite impressive. He recorded 54 combined tackles and six sacks in 13 games.

New England also selected Florida product Dominique Easley in the first-round of the 2014 NFL draft. The selection was a bit of an insurance policy in the event the club’s aging veteran tackles succumb to injury again. Easley was a force in the middle of the Gators defense and certainly possesses the tools needed to develop into one for the Patriots.

Both Jones and Easley are young. They’ll only continue to improve and grow their repertoire. The two are New England’s most realistic options outside of Kelly.

As of right know though, Jones’ proven ability within New England’s system may warrant an initial chance at the job if Kelly struggles in his return from injury.

No matter who ultimately wins the job, the team’s depth at the position will prove to be invaluable over the course of a 16-game season. Belichick has plenty of options at his disposal, only making him more dangerous.

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Tags: Chris Jones Dominique Easley New England Patriots Tommy Kelly

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