There’s no need to question Jabaal Sheard’s toughness.
The New England Patriots’ recently signed pass rusher played the end of last season with a broken foot, according to a source. He’ll fit in with the Patriots just fine.
The Patriots haven’t used a situational pass rusher since 2011, when Mark Anderson put up double-digit sacks in the role, but now Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones finally will get a breather. Sheard should be the perfect player to give Ninkovich and Jones an occasional rest while also contributing on third down and in obvious passing situations.
When asked for a quick scouting report on the 6-foot-3, 264-pound former Cleveland Brown, an NFL personnel source said he’s “tough, has incredible character, not great in space, a better 4-3 guy and better when taking fewer reps.” The source also said Sheard would be “OK on another team but better with (the Patriots).”
Sheard was less productive in 2013 and 2014, when the Browns switched to a 3-4, forcing the Pittsburgh product to outside linebacker. Sheard had 15.5 sacks in his first two NFL seasons while playing defensive end in a 4-3. His experience rushing standing up and with his hand in the dirt at 4-3 likely is what drew the Patriots to him.
Sheard also is a stout run defender, so he’s not a pure situational pass rusher. He could start in place of Ninkovich or Jones if either player gets hurt.
Here’s one of Sheard’s two sacks from 2014, when he completely overpowers Pittsburgh Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert on a bull rush.
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He beat Patriots left tackle Nate Solder for a sack in 2013.
Sheard might not make Patriots fans forget about Darrelle Revis, but he is the first splash signing for New England this offseason and the only addition that wasn’t met with instant mockery from fans. The secondary won’t carry the defense as it did in 2014, so the Patriots will need to improve in other facets, like pass rush.
If Sheard, Jones and Ninkovich can get after the opposing quarterback faster, that puts less stress on the Devin McCourty-led secondary. The Patriots were able to sign Sheard for a team-friendly two-year, $11 million contract, and he’ll have a salary-cap hit of just $4 million in 2015.
Head coach Bill Belichick appears to be taking the money that would have been used on Revis and spending it on role players who will improve the Patriots’ few weaknesses from their Super Bowl XLIX-winning roster. Sheard is just the beginning.
Thumbnail photo via Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Images