Tag Archives: Patriots defensive ends

Patriots 2019 Training Camp Guide – Defensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 19, 2019 at 8:30 am ET

Less Than a Week Before the Patriots are “Knockin’ on Seven’s Door” 

The Patriots lost a couple of their key starters on the defensive line from last year’s Super Bowl team. Trey Flowers was their biggest loss, he was versatile, and could play on the edge as well as kick inside as an interior pass rusher. The team also lost former 1st round pick Malcom Brown who signed with the Saints in free agency. Adrian Clayborn left in free agency as well.

But the team didn’t stand pat and signed former Jets DL Mike Pennel, the big nose tackle is a space-eater and can two-gap over the ball and take on double teams. Pennel’s signing is one of the most under-the-radar and underrated signings of the spring. The team also re-signed Danny Shelton for the interior of the line. David Parry and rookie Byron Cowart will be fighting for a roster spot. 

Pennel after minicamp session. SBalestrieri photo

Bill Belichick also swung a trade with Philadelphia, just a few hours after Flowers signed with Detroit. The Patriots gave up a 5th round draft pick for Michael Bennett and a 7th. While Bennett’s best days are behind him, he’s still a very viable pass rusher. He notched nine sacks for the Eagles last year, which would have led the Patriots. They also addressed the pass rush by drafting Michigan’s Chase Winovich in the third round. 

The very good and underrated Lawrence Guy returns as does Deatrich Wise, and Adam Butler on the interior line. This is a big year for former top draft pick Derek Rivers. He’ll be fighting for a roster spot with Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Ufomba Kamalu, and Nick Thurman on the edge. 

With the breakdown of personnel that the team has this year, we could see more multiple looks and the team switching between a 4-3 and 3-4 defensive fronts. We’ll get more to that below. 

Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25. And be sure to keep up with our coverage from training camp. 

Current roster – 

Interior DL – Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler, David Parry, Byron Cowart

Locks – Guy, Pennel, Butler

Near Locks –  none

Bubble – Shelton, Parry, Cowart

Long Shot – none

Edge Players – Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, Chase Winovich, John Simon, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Ufomba Kamalu, Nick Thurman

Locks – Bennett, Wise, Winovich, Simon

Near Locks –  none

Bubble – Rivers, Davis, Harris, Kamalu, Thurman

Long Shot – none

Discussion – We’ll start with the interior big men. Pennel, Guy, and Butler are all locks for the roster. Pennel is a perfect fit with what the Patriots ask for their big men over the nose. Standing at 6’4, 332 pounds, Pennel is a very thick, powerful man with a huge lower body that is built for eating up two gaps. Guy has been a very nice addition to the Patriots since he arrived from Baltimore. Butler is a 300-pound penetrator who provides the team a nice interior pass rush on passing downs. 

Vying for the fourth spot on the interior DL is Danny Shelton, the former 1st round pick who the Patriots brought over from Cleveland last year. He suffered thru a lapse of poor play where he sat and was a healthy scratch a few times. But he elevated his game down the stretch and played better in the playoffs. David Parry is a four-year veteran who played for the Colts, Saints, and Vikings. Byron Cowart is a rookie out of Maryland who flashed a bit in his senior season and is a dark horse to make the roster. However, some analysts believe that he’s just coming into his own and could make some noise this summer. 

Essentially, the trio of Shelton, Parry, and Cowart may very well be vying for one roster spot unless they decide to keep five interior players, which is doubtful. Cowart has practice squad eligibility, which could come into play. 

On the edge, the Patriots have Bennett, Wise, Winovich (by virtue of his draft stock), and Simon as locks. Bennett is still a very good pass rusher and should continue to be very productive in the Patriots system. Wise is coming off a decent if a slightly inconsistent year with 4.5 sacks. Simon was cut loose by the Colts last year and the Patriots wasted little time in signing him. His role increased down the stretch and showed he could get after the QB, set the edge and drop into coverage a bit. The Patriots gave him a two-year deal worth $4 million with $1.65 million guaranteed. 

Winovich is a wild card here this season. The Patriots drafted him with a third-round pick and he’s a guy who plays with his hair on fire, going all out on every snap. His non-stop motor and excellent hands should see him logging some significant snaps. 

With possibly two more roster spots remaining,  the competition gets fierce here. Derek Rivers is in a make-or-break season. He’ll be competing with Keionta Davis, Ufomba Kamalu, Nick Thurman, and Trent Harris for the remaining edge roster spots. Another guy who could factor into the edge is a fourth-year linebacker, Shilique Calhoun.

Looking at this defensive line and the way it is constructed, it would lend itself to being more of a 3-4 unit than a 4-3. Pennel and Shelton are prototypical nose tackles. Lawrence Guy was a 3-4 DE with Baltimore and guys like Deatrich Wise, Kamalu, and Thurman are best suited for a 5-technique role. 

Bennett, Winovich, and Simon would then revert to edge-rushing OLBs. We know Bill Belichick hates to categorize it one way or the other. And they’ll stay multiple and mix and match their personnel depending upon the opponent. Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Jamie Collins could all see some work along the edge as well, depending on the opponent and the front in which they line up. 

With a lot of the talk this spring and early summer being that the defensive line will be weaker this season, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. While losing Flowers will definitely be a blow, gaining Bennett and Winovich is a nice way to address it. Pennel, in my opinion, will more than makeup for the loss of Brown. But we’ll have to see. That’s what makes the watching of training camp and preseason so intriguing.

With training camp starting next week, the competition among the defensive linemen should be extremely fun to watch. 

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

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Jabaal Sheard is Another Player Deserving of a New Contract

Steve Balestrieri
May 31, 2016 at 8:25 am ET

Veteran DE is still just 27 and entering prime of his career

The Patriots pulled off quite the steal last spring when they signed DE Jabaal Sheard via free agency from the Cleveland Browns. At the time, his two-year $11 million-dollar contract generated little on the national stage but like many of Bill Belichick’s moves, it was a bargain for the team. Now Sheard joins the ranks of those players deserving of a new deal.

Sheard fit right in with the Patriots at the DE position, logging in eight sacks and 58 quarterback pressures in 2015, and according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he was the third rated defensive end for setting the edge against the run.

Sheard provided the Patriots with a versatile defensive end who joined Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones as an end of the line player who can set the edge in the running game, get after the quarterback and was even able to kick inside and give the team a decent interior pass rusher on obvious passing downs.

Cleveland, with so many changes in coaches and philosophy, never really quite figured out a way to utilize Sheard’s talents. As a result, his loss was the Patriots gain, despite him not being one of the premiere free agents from a year ago. Sheard, along with last season’s draft picks Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom and Rufus Johnson gives the team a versatile, impactful group that is just scratching the surface of their potential.

Jabaal Sheard made his presence felt immediately last season and became a big part of the Patriots front seven. (SBalestrieri/PatsFans image)

His versatility was not lost on Bill Belichick, who recognized his value late last season.

“We put Chandler (Jones), inside some in the past and we’ve done that some this year, but Jabaal has actually played in there more,” Belichick said. “That’s something that, as I said, in Cleveland, he primarily played on the left side. He was on right end, too, but primarily on the end of the line. You rarely, if ever, saw him inside, and this year when we put him in there early in the season and in training camp he had some very productive plays …

“Jabaal, in particular, has been able to do some things he hasn’t done before like playing inside and playing some pass-coverage responsibilities. He’s done very well in picking that up and giving us a lot of production.”

The team felt comfortable enough with the group that they traded Jones to Arizona this spring for guard Jonathan Cooper and a draft pick. They then signed veteran Chris Long from the Rams. But it will be Sheard that will step up into Jones starting role and he should be close to the top of the list of impactful veterans that need to be resigned.

With Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower and Malcolm Butler all due for new contracts, Sheard is nearly as important a signing when talking in terms of a new deal. He’s currently in the last year of that two-year deal and with Ninkovich and Long both on the wrong side of 30 and the younger players still mostly unproven, it would behoove the Patriots to get his deal done sooner rather than later as he still has quite a few years of peak performance left.

With the abundance of big players being added to the interior of the defensive line this offseason, the onus will be placed on the players at the end of the line to be the playmakers. In Sheard, Ninkovich, Long, Flowers, Grissom and Johnson, the Patriots have a deep and productive group on the edge. With plenty of potential and versatility, they have on paper, an even better front seven than a year ago. Now they’ll just have to come together and play well. With Sheard, Flowers, Grissom, and Johnson all entering their second year in the Patriots system, there is no reason not to believe that they will all improve in 2016.

Long has embraced the team’s way and has gone out of his way to credit Ninkovich with showing him the ropes. Sheard isn’t a demonstrative type, he’s much quieter and prefers to let his playing do the talking. While he’ll never be a quote machine, he’s a player that should have a big role in 2016. It promises to be an exciting summer watching the edge rushers jockey for position and snaps during training camp. Sheard will be at the forefront of the players to watch.

Now the Patriots need to do an extension with him before he hits the open market again. This time, it will promise to be a much bigger market for his services.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.



Rumor Central: Dwight Freeney to the Patriots?

Steve Balestrieri
May 18, 2016 at 6:31 am ET

NE Has Depth, Youth at DE and his signing would impact that

The latest rumor surrounding the Patriots has to do with free agent Arizona Cardinal defensive end Dwight Freeney. The 36-year old edge rusher is still looking for a home in 2016 and is still hoping to re-sign with the Cardinals.

This is where the story gets a little contrived; in an interview with MMQB’s Peter King, King asked Freeney if he’d consider New England. Freeney, a long-time Colt and long-time pain in the behind for Tom Brady, naturally said he’d be open to the idea.

“Well, that’s hard to fathom. But I’m not against Bill,” Freeney said to King. “I understand the dynamic involved, but at the end of the day, this is a business. My first allegiance right now is to Arizona if they’re interested. But if it happened that I ended up in New England, I can tell you, both sides would win.”

Freeney had eight sacks in just 317 snaps in 2015 playing in 13 games, 11 regular season and two playoff contests. That includes three sacks of Aaron Rodgers in a game against the Packers. That was the most he’s had since 2011. But with the Cards trading for Chandler Jones, a much younger player and a guy that can go on all three downs, Freeney’s age and lack of versatility make him expendable.

Here are two reasons why I don’t think this will happen. First, neither the Patriots nor Freeney have shown any interest in one another. The team didn’t have him in for a visit and Freeney never openly courted to come here ala Terrell Owens. King just threw it against the wall given that Freeney was a big part of several contests between the Patriots and Colts. With the intense rivalry between the two teams, it would make for some good fodder.

The second reason why is that the Patriots are already deep at defensive end. Starters Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard return and the team already brought in Chris Long this spring. With the money they’re paying Long, it would seem that he’s going to be that designated pass rush specialist and even though he has had injury concerns the past two years, he is five years younger than Freeney at age 31.

Plus, the Patriots have invested in young players at the position with Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers, and Rufus Johnson. Bringing in Freeney would mean parting ways with at least one of them before the team has had an opportunity to see what they can do.

The Patriots are already deep at DE with Jabaal Sheard and 2nd yr player Geneo Grissom, here playing inside. (SBalestrieri Images)

Grissom and Flowers were drafted last spring and Johnson was signed to a future’s contract in December 2014. It should be noted that all three made the 53-man roster at the end of training camp. Johnson flashed very well in camp and preseason then played in the first game before an illness forced him on IR. I spoke with Johnson two weeks ago at a charity basketball game and he said that although he was listed as a LB last year, that the team told him he’s going to play strictly defensive end this year. At  6’5 and a chiseled looking 280 pounds, he looks the part.

Grissom appeared sparingly in 14 games logging in at just 11.9 percent of the defensive snaps but did have a sizeable special teams’ role, playing in 28.9 percent of the unit’s snaps there. He totaled six tackles and a sack in his rookie campaign.

Flowers had a dominant training camp and preseason but a pair of injuries prematurely ended his season after just a single game. He too has an intriguing upside and his red-shirt type ending to 2015 should leave the team expecting much more from him this year. In the short clip below we caught up with Flowers after he was coming back from his first injury

While the signing of Freeney would definitely seem like a good thing on the surface, it wouldn’t benefit the team in the long-term, especially with the untapped potential of the three younger players. Plus, with Long fulfilling the dedicated pass rush role (at least on paper), Freeney’s addition would seem redundant. And could we really expect him to duplicate the numbers of 2015 or would it be like catching lightning in a bottle?

I say the Patriots pass.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Chris Long, Another Patriots Redemption Project on Defense

Steve Balestrieri
May 12, 2016 at 9:25 am ET

Pats DE-A Big Under the Radar Signing This Spring

The Patriots signed DE Chris Long just hours after trading Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals for G Jonathan Cooper and a 2nd round draft pick. Coincidence? Hardly. It was a smart decision signing a formerly dominant edge rusher looking to reignite his game after suffering two serious injuries in 2014-15.

Long missed 14 games those two lost seasons and was able to generate just four sacks, suffering an ankle injury and later a knee issue. Prior to that, Long, who turned 31 in March had an impressive run from 2010-13 where he generated 41.5 sacks and was one of the more dominant edge rushers in the game.

Long, if he can stay healthy in 2016 is a perfect fit for the Patriots defense in that he is the quintessential Bill Belichick-type player. Smart, competitive, comes from a football background and family, passionate about the game and with an unquenched thirst for winning. That’s one thing Long hasn’t experienced in his NFL career…winning. He’s never tasted the postseason and part of the draw for New England, why he took only a $2.375 million-dollar contract to come here was the opportunity to win.

The Patriots are looking for DE Chris Long to return to health and his dominant form in 2016. (USA TODAY Images)

Long can look to other players who came to New England in the latter stages of their careers and found success with the Patriots. Roman Phifer, Ted Washington, Andre Carter, Mark Anderson, and of course Rodney Harrison were all important cogs on the Patriots defense in years that the team went to the Super Bowl.

Long fits right in with what the Patriots and most importantly Bill Belichick likes in his players. Just ask one of his closest confidantes and fellow coaches has to say.

“The structure of the Patriots is based on players who are passionate about football and competition and winning,” Long’s former college coach and Belichick friend Al Groh said to WEEI’s Chris Price. “They are intense about preparation, and at the same time, they value guys who are good teammates.

“He’s passionate about football and winning, and he loves competition. He prepares relentlessly. Everybody who has ever played with or coached Chris said that they have never had a better teammate,” added Groh.

“He’s an excellent fit for the Patriots, and the Patriots are an excellent fit for him.”

The Patriots have been stockpiling big, physical players on the interior of the defensive line this spring. With Alan Branch and Malcom Brown already on the roster, the team added Terrance Knighton, Markus Kuhn, Frank Kearse and drafted Vincent Valentine in the 3rd round of the draft. They’re big, immovable objects but aren’t the most dynamic of pass rushers. That’s where the edge rushers come in.

Long is part of half a dozen Patriots defensive ends that the team will carry into OTAs and later into training camp. With Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard returning, Long won’t be expected to play an inordinate amount of snaps and wear himself down. Rather, he may be tasked with being a sub-package, third down pass rusher.

He could stay fresh, come in on passing situations and play with fire that marked his career that we’ve come to expect since he was the 2nd overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft from the University of Virginia.

The Patriots also have last year’s draft picks in Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers as well as Rufus Johnson who played well last summer before ending on IR early last season. With a slew of good edge rushers, the Patriots could also opt with sliding an edge rusher inside on obvious passing downs in a NASCAR package. We’ve seen them do that with Jones and Sheard in the past and with Grissom and Flowers last preseason.

The Patriots have used their edge rushers inside, in a NASCAR-type package here rookie Geneo Grissom lines up inside Jabaal Sheard. (SBalestrieri image)

Long at 6’4, 275 could do that, but would probably be best served lining up on the edge. Ninkovich and Sheard should enter training camp as the team’s starters but by adding Long as a pure pass rusher just sounds like a success waiting to happen. And just what is the best news to come out of Long and the Pats since his signing? Silence.

Nary a word has been spoken from Long nor about him since he’s signed on. I am sure that’s fine with Belichick. But for Long, it is just a sign that he’s putting in the work and getting ready to fill a role for the Patriots that will hopefully take him thru 16 games and beyond this season.

Uncharted waters for the veteran, but he can look to those other vets who came to New England and found success as well. He’s taken over Jones’ old number, #95 on the Pats roster. He’ll be a clear player to focus on once training camp begins in earnest come late July.

Then you’ll be hearing his name quite a bit…

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.



Possible Patriots Target in the Draft, DE Carl Nassib

Steve Balestrieri
April 14, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Nassib is a High Upside Player That Can Provide More Edge Pressure

As the 2016 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots are deep at defensive end, even after trading away Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals. Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich return and the team added Chris Long in a free agent signing. Also returning are last season’s draft picks Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom, as well as Rufus Johnson who can also play linebacker.

But edge rushers are like cornerbacks, you can never have too many good ones and although the team is expecting both Flowers and Grissom to make that second year jump in production, that won’t stop the Pats from looking at any intriguing prospects that could be of interest either in 2016 or next year with a bit of seasoning.

Carl Nassib from Penn State was a former walk-on player who elevated his game on the edge to lead the country in sacks with 15.5 in 2015 and also had 19.5 tackles for loss (TFL) and six forced fumbles as well as an interception for the Nittany Lions.

Nassib has an NFL-ready frame at 6’7, 277 pounds and can easily add some extra muscle at the next level. With a quick burst off the line, he has good straight-line speed that allows him to beat his opponent to the edge.

With his long arms and good hand movement, he’s able to shed blockers when rushing the passer and keeps his pad level low. Nassib is a powerful, punishing tackler with a non-stop motor.

carl nassib2


– Excellent pass rusher led the nation in sacks despite missing two games

– Quick first step and good straight-line speed off the edge

– Smart instinctive player can diagnose plays quickly

– Violent hitter will punish ball carriers


– Needs to build up lower body, has somewhat thin legs

– Still raw and needs to develop refined pass-rush moves

– Over-aggressive at times and will overrun the play

What his Role Will Be:
Nassib’s role would be to be a part of the rotation outside for the Patriots defensive line. He’d project initially as a sub-package pass rusher to add depth and fresh legs to the Patriots pressure on the QB.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with some added muscle on his frame and increased ability to set the edge, Nassib could become a three-down starter for the team.

How Many Downs Can He Play?

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
He’ll challenge Flowers and Grissom for reps and with a strong camp showing could push one of the interior players off the roster.

What is his ST Value?

Nassib would fit in well with the Patriots defensive system as he is a natural 4-3 defensive end. He comes from a football family and is a very dedicated, hard worker that is possibly just scratching his potential as a football player. He was told by former Penn State and Patriots coach Bill O’Brien to forget about playing in the NFL. Six months later, O’Brien awarded him a scholarship.

While he’s still raw as a pass-rusher, his production in his senior year makes him an intriguing option. Still the question remains, is he a one-year wonder or a legitimate emerging prospect? With the length, power and production he’s shown as well as his dedication to his craft, it certainly looks like the latter.

Nassib is a player who doesn’t jump off the screen athletically at one watching his film. But he’s got speed, and continually makes plays. He’s got the desire and drive as an underdog that will play well with Bill Belichick and the coaching staff.

He projects in the Patriots system to be a Potential Starter for the Patriots. He should fit in very well into the NE defense as a member of the defensive end rotation.

Nassib is thought to be available in the 3rd to 4th round of the draft. He’d a nice addition if he’s available in that time frame.

Nassib’s highlight film can be found here, courtesy of illinoisaaron:


Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.