Patriots sign up more big defenders
FOXBOROUGH - After adding three more defensive linemen yesterday, the Patriots now have a whopping 19 on their roster - and that’s not counting hybrid players such as Jermaine Cunningham and Markell Carter.
New England signed former Jet Shaun Ellis, Andre Carter, most recently with the Redskins, and a surprise player: Gerard Warren, brought in last year, also signed on.
Bill Belichick has talked about playing multiple fronts and switching personnel on the line this year, and he certainly has the versatility to do that. It’s impossible to keep all 19, but when Belichick pares down the group, he will hold onto the players who can do a variety of things - stuff the run, push back offensive linemen, and the one thing every Patriots fan has been calling for: pressure the quarterback.
The 32-year old Carter, who had 11 sacks for Washington in 2009 but just two last season when the team switched to a 3-4 defense, and he was asked to play outside linebacker, was on the field and practicing yesterday. His role is a “progression,’’ he said, but a league source indicated he chose the Patriots when he was assured he’d be allowed to play end.
To hear Carter yesterday, he might have just one job, and that suits him fine.
“When we did talk . . . it was just simple - you put your hand in the dirt and go,’’ Carter said of his early discussions with Belichick. “Now, granted, you’ve got to be smart and do your job but as far as that we were on the same [wavelength] as far as communication.’’
He called Washington’s defense last year “a great scheme’’ and acknowledged that it gave him some versatility, but “the person that I am, I’ve just been a defensive end.’’
Belichick called the 6-foot-4-inch, 257-pound Carter a “high-quality individual,’’ and said that in his one season as a special teams/defensive assistant with the Broncos in 1978, he coached Carter’s father, Rubin.
“He’s had a lot of production throughout his career,’’ Belichick said of Andre. “Last year when Washington went to the 3-4 defense, it wasn’t a good fit for him evidently in that system. But we feel like what we’ll be asking him to do this year - relative to what he was asked to do last year, what we’ve seen him do in the first nine years of his career - that we can use his ability on the edge and he can be effective.’’
So it’s safe to assume Carter will be called upon to get after quarterbacks.
Ellis’s role isn’t so clear, and it may be more than one thing.
The longtime Jet said he played in at least six different defensive schemes during his time in New York, both in a 4-3 and, more recently, in a 3-4 under Eric Mangini and then Rex Ryan.
Ellis feels most comfortable playing in a 4-3.
“I’ve played all of them. So to me it doesn’t matter. I feel like I can play all positions - I line up all positions so I’ve been doing it my whole career; it’s natural,’’ he said.
The Patriots have a lot in mind for Ellis, who signed a one-year deal with a base of $4 million and another $1 million in incentives, according to multiple reports. Belichick has long joked that he’d rather sign certain players than have to face them again - something he said when the team acquired Wes Welker from the Dolphins - and Ellis falls into that category. Especially since the last time Belichick saw him he was sacking Tom Brady twice in the Jets’ playoff win.
“He’s been a very productive player - he’s durable and very consistent. It seems like every time we play him, he lines up there and we have a hard time with him,’’ Belichick said. “The fact that we had an opportunity to add him to our team, we feel fortunate. I think he brings a good presence in terms of his leadership and his professionalism, as well as experience and his style of play and his performance.’’
Last year, with Ty Warren on injured reserve for the entire season and Mike Wright lost for nearly half of it, the Patriots used a lot of four- and even two-man fronts almost out of necessity.
This year, they’ll be rotating players in and out not out of necessity, but because Belichick will be trying to take full advantage of what each player can offer.
“I don’t think our defensive philosophy is going to change,’’ he said. “I think how we align and how we handle the responsibilities, I think that could definitely change by game plan or by what we feel are our strengths and weaknesses and how to best deploy the players. I don’t think fundamentally our philosophy and our techniques are going to change. I think what we’re teaching we’re going to continue to teach and use on a very consistent basis.
“How, strategically, we want to move guys around and put them in certain alignments or how to configure them relative to certain formations and tie it in with coverages and things like that - I think there’s flexibility there.’’
Flexibility for the Patriots could mean nightmares for offenses.