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Fanene: Ex-Bengal with new stripes

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / May 2, 2012
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FOXBOROUGH - It didn’t take Jonathan Fanene long to feel he was in the right place at the right time. The 30-year-old defensive end finally had bolted from his home base with the Cincinnati Bengals after a seven-year career that had established him as a solid if not spectacular player.

He also played a position where almost every NFL team is on a constant search for depth.

“I guess they saw a need and felt I could fill it,’’ said the new Patriot with a smile Tuesday after a workout that has been part of his routine since agreeing in March to a three-year, $12 million deal as a free agent. “There’s a lot of good things here. I want to be part of a good thing.’’

Fanene, one of the few NFL players (including the late Mosi Tatupu) whose career has roots in American Samoa, had other opportunities, or at least interest from other teams. But choosing the Patriots wasn’t a tough decision.

“When I first got the call from Bill [Belichick], I was very excited,’’ he said. “I wanted to come here.’’

Fanene already has noticed differences in the attitude and atmosphere between New England and Cincinnati, which chose him as a seventh-round pick in the 2005 draft.

“I see guys focused more, and not just the workout, but in everything we do here,’’ he said. “It’s more of a team effort. Guys welcome me inside the locker room. It’s just hard-working, do-the-job type of atmosphere.’’

Fanene got a heads-up on the Patriots from former teammate Chad Ochocinco, who signed as a free agent last season.

“Ocho’s a good guy,’’ said Fanene. “At Cincinnati, he took me under his arm and taught me the game.’’

Fanene said he is willing to fill whatever role the Patriots want him in.

“They see some things they like on film, so they brought me here for a reason,’’ he said. “So I will just do the best I can. If they tell me to play nose, I will play nose. If they tell me play outside, I will play outside, special teams.’’

Fanene, the second of 12 children, believes his background has given him a strong base.

“A lot of pride coming from American Samoa,’’ he said. “They want it more.’’

Fanene started his football career as a 225-pound wide receiver/quarterback.

“Pretty much a spread offense,’’ said Fanene, now 6 feet 4 inches, 292 pounds. “I was a receiver playing quarterback. I just shifted around and made plays.’’

Fanene’s initial contact with the Patriots wasn’t all that pleasant. He recalled a game against New England in 2010 in which he injured his hamstring; he wound up playing only two games that season.

“I was going against Matt Light and I came around the corner and I felt something was wrong,’’ he said. “I never expected to be here, but I am going to do the best I can to win games.’’

When he signed with the Patriots, said Fanene, Belichick told him to simply do his job. Asked if Belichick told him what that job would be, Fanene laughed and shook his head.

“I will let you know,’’ he said.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.

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