Countdown to camp: DL — Trey Flowers could be poised for monster season

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(Adam Richins/Boston Sports Journal)

With Patriots camp set to open Thursday, we wanted to reset the roster at each position and give you a few things we’ll be keeping an eye on down in Foxborough. So far, we’ve previewed the quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, receivers, and offensive line. In this segment, we break down the defensive line, one of the youngest positional groupings on the roster.

Offseason movement included the departures of Ricky-Jean Francois and Alan Branch, who were (fundamentally) replaced by Danny Shelton and Adrian Clayborn. Two big questions: Can this group — namely those on the edge — do a better job getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks than it did last year? And is this the last season in New England for Trey Flowers, who could be in for a sizable payday if he performs like he has over the last year-plus.

(Oh, and no disrespect to Frank Herron, Trent Harris, and John Atkins, but these are our top 12 defensive linemen.)

No. 1: Trey Flowers

Position: Defensive line/end.

The good: The Patriots’ best pure pass rusher. A high-motor defender with tremendous strength, he’s also stout against the run.

The questionable: Not sure. Maybe he has some overdue library books we’re not aware of? The only real thing that might be a concern is whether or not he’ll let the prospect of being in a contract year and being asked to flip from one side of the defense to the other mess with his head. To this point, that doesn’t seem likely.

Skinny: If he’s not a surprise trade because of his contract situation, he’s the odds’ on favorite to lead the Patriots in sacks and again be their best all-around defensive lineman.

[caption id="attachment_416885" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Malcom Brown is entering his fourth year with the Patriots. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)[/caption]

No. 2: Malcom Brown

Position: Defensive tackle.

The good: Two-gapper who holds up well against the run. Sturdy and durable (has played at least 13 games a year all three seasons in the league), he played a sizable role in smothering the Jacksonville running game in last year’s AFC title contest. He’s basically a Dollar Store edition of Vince Wilfork.

The questionable: Can he adapt to playing alongside several new faces up front, including Clayborn and Shelton?

Skinny: Like Flowers, there’s some question about his long-term contract status, which makes him a bit of a wild card when it comes to this summer. But given his background in the system and his body of work, he still has to be considered one of the more underrated parts of the New England defense.

No. 3: Adrian Clayborn