FOXBORO, Mass. — Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones could see some much-needed rest this season.
That seems to be the idea behind the New England Patriots adding third pass rusher Jabaal Sheard into the mix this offseason. Jones and Ninkovich play nearly every snap when healthy, while most NFL teams rotate their defensive ends.
If the Patriots’ defensive end trio knows how they’ll coexist this season, however, they’re not admitting it.
“Whatever they ask of me, I really don’t know,” Sheard said Wednesday. “Whatever coach asks for me to do, get out there on the field, as long as I get some reps out there and get after the quarterback.”
Ninkovich ranked third among pass rushers in defensive snaps last season, and he was second — behind only Jones — among defensive ends in 2014.
“Jabaal’s done a terrific job coming in here and working hard,” Ninkovich said. “We’re all working hard right now to work for that first game. We have a lot of work to do. Whatever position I’m playing, whatever the coaches ask of me, I do it to the best of my abilities.”
Jones, Ninkovich and Sheard all have the versatility to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 or defensive end in a 4-3. Jones, who looks like he’s added weight in the offseason, also can rush from the inside and play defensive end in a 3-4, so the Patriots could get creative with how all three players are used this season.
“I feel like every year we have a different defense,” Jones said. “That’s just how football works. It would be unfair for me to compare this year’s to last year’s. We have some strengths and some weaknesses, and that’s what every defense has. Our job is just to capitalize and execute.”
Patriots legend Willie McGinest was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame on Wednesday before practice. McGinest also played a hybrid pass-rushing role, and he’s a player Sheard has studied throughout his career.
“That’s a guy that I watch film on still to this day, how he used to rush and how he used to attack and how he was relentless,” Sheard said. “Watching a great is something you always want to do, how they rush. The game doesn’t change. His relentless effort is what got him there.”
If Sheard can help keep Ninkovich and Jones fresh, the Patriots’ pass rush could be dangerous, taking pressure off a secondary that lost some big names over the offseason. The Patriots also drafted Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom, boosting their pass-rushing depth.
Thumbnail photo via NESN/Doug Kyed