New England Patriots DL Ron Brace, a second-round pick, has gotten reps at both end and tackle in practice. Primarily a tackle at Boston College, Brace is showing impressive versatility early in his career looking to provide depth on New England's talented defensive line.
But according to Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Brace isn't quite ready to take over for his Patriots teammate Vince Wilfork. Like Brace's former teammate at BC, (B.J. Raji), Wilfork is the man in the middle with Brace playing second fiddle... for now.
"Vince is as good a player at his position as there is in the league, a very experienced, versatile guy," Belichick said."Ron has never played a down in the National Football League; he's been out practicing for a week. He's not going to be able to make up that kind of ground against Vince Wilfork in one week of practice."
Despite Belichick's insinuation that Brace is in no shape to displace Wilfork, the coach did praise Brace's ability to play multiple positions.
"I think Ron has that combination of size and power and length. When you're playing against those offensive tackles - those guys that are 6-5, 6-6, with 34-inch arms, 35-inch arms - it's hard for a 6-1 player to really be able to play against that kind of length. You generally have taller players playing out there, generally speaking."
With the Patriots fully engrained in running a 3-4 defense, Belichick can envision Brace teaming up with Wilfork in certain defensive looks, more of a 4-3 scheme.
"Ron and Vince are big guys, athletic, certainly can hold the point and are extremely stout, but when they penetrate or shoot the gap or try to get on the edge of a blocker instead or right over the top of them, sometimes they can be pretty hard to stop.," Belichick said. "They get a lot of momentum heading into the gap and-if you don't get over in front of them they can penetrate and be disruptive."
The Patriots are expected to maintain their 3-4 system, but offseason moves, combined with behind-the-scenes conversations, have led many insiders to believe the Patriots are planning on running a 4-3 system to get both Brace and Wilfork on the field at the same time.
Raji Not Garnering Much Praise
|B.J. Raji at Boston College (Getty images)|
Brace's progress, and praise from his head coach, is in sharp contrast to former BC teammate B.J. Raji who was taken by the Green Bay Packers in the first round of the Draft. Raji still has not signed his contract and remains a holdout into week two of Packers training camp.
Raji's holdout from training camp stretched into a second week and apparently with no end in sight. The longer Raji remains unsigned, the stronger the possibility the defensive lineman won't be in the starting lineup opening day Sept. 13.
"He's behind. I think it's obvious," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "It's important for players to be here in training camp. If it wasn't, we wouldn't have training camp. It's important that he gets in here as soon as he can."
The impasse with Raji is more or less connected to three other players taken in the bottom five of the top 10 of the first round who hadn't signed as of Sunday: offensive tackles Andre Smith (No. 6) of the Cincinnati Bengals and Eugene Monroe (No. 8) of the Jacksonville Jaguars and wide receiver Michael Crabtree (No. 10) of the San Francisco 49ers. The agents for the unsigned players taken ahead of Crabtree don't seem inclined to ratchet up negotiations with their players' teams until something happens with Crabtree, who is seeking to be paid like a top-five pick after a foot injury caused his draft stock to fall.
Raji has been in Green Bay since the Packers opened training camp Aug. 1, but he is barred from being with the team and going to its facilities until he is signed.
Mamie Raji said her son has been passing the time by "cooking and all of that, fixing up his townhouse. He's waiting."
While Raji cooks and cleans, Brace is getting dirty in camp. Comparative evaluations of the former teammates will have to wait a little while longer.
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