FOXBORO, Mass. — Jabaal Sheard has finally found stability with the New England Patriots.
Sheard, who was signed over the offseason as a free agent, started his career with the Cleveland Browns as a 4-3 defensive end before the team switched to a 3-4, moving him to outside linebacker in 2013. He played under three defensive coordinators and found his greatest success under Dick Jauron in 2011 and 2012.
The Patriots run a hybrid defensive alignment but mostly stayed in a four-man front last season. A switch back to defensive end, where he also started three years in college, could do wonders for Sheard, who shines in run defense and as a pass rusher. He appreciates how his experience with the Browns made him a more versatile player, however.
“Throughout the course of the years, I learned three different defenses,” Sheard said Tuesday at Gillette Stadium. “I learned how to drop back. It made me diverse and able to do a number of different things. I think the three different coordinators definitely helped me. I think it prepared me to be a coach one day. We’ll see how that goes.”
The 6-foot-3, 264-pound edge rusher had 8.5 sacks and 55 total pressures, per Pro Football Focus, as a rookie. He added seven more sacks in 2012 with 37 total pressures before his sack totals dropped to 5.5 and two over his next two seasons.
It remains to be seen what Sheard’s role will be in 2015 with the Patriots, but fellow pass rushers Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are helping him get acclimated to his new team.
“Always, definitely, outside linebacker group: Rob, Chan, those guys,” Sheard said when asked which players he has leaned on during the offseason workout program. “I also got Eric Martin, who was with me in Cleveland. A couple guys you see around the league that bounced around and familiar faces always make you feel a little bit more comfortable.”
Those same teammates who are helping Sheard get comfortable on the field also are showing him around Boston and Foxboro.
“Everybody’s like a family around here,” Sheard said. “They accept you in right away. It’s just been cool, showing me the city. Definitely a different city compared to Cleveland. Cleveland — wasn’t a lot going on until LeBron (James) came back. It was what it was. Here, there’s definitley a lot of life going on downtown, enjoying the city. Even down here in Foxboro alone, just come here by the strip mall, get some good weather yesterday. It’s been OK.”
Sheard signed a two-year, $11 million contract with Patriots that includes $5 million guaranteed. The Patriots could use a rotation at defensive end this season, which would give Jones and Ninkovich some much-needed rest. If the Patriots hope to increase their pass rush this season, taking pressure off of a depleted secondary, Sheard will play a big role.
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