FOXBORO, Mass. — Though their pass-rush depth took a hit when Rob Ninkovich announced his retirement Sunday, the New England Patriots weren’t caught off guard.
The Patriots started planning for life without Ninkovich as far back as 2015, when they drafted pass rushers Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom. They then signed Shea McClellin during the 2016 offseason, traded for Kyle Van Noy and Kony Ealy and selected Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Van Noy, McClellin and another versatile linebacker/pass rusher, rookie Harvey Langi, participated in pass rush drills rather than working on coverage in 7-on-7s Sunday during training camp. Though Van Noy and McClellin worked more as linebackers than edge rushers in 2016, one of those players likely will have to step up and fill the void left by Ninkovich.
Van Noy, in particular, has expressed his desire to rush the passer more in the past. He pitched the company line of “If that’s what they want, that’s what I’m going to do” on Sunday but did say he enjoys rushing the passer.
“I always enjoy getting after the quarterback and making plays,” Van Noy said. “That’s what this game’s all about.”
Van Noy was an edge rusher in college before being moved to linebacker with the Detroit Lions in the NFL. He mostly played linebacker last season with the Patriots but is an experienced and productive pass rusher, so it’s possible he could see an increase in pass-rushing opportunities in 2017.
Regardless of where he plays, Van Noy should have a bigger impact on the Patriots’ defense in 2017 after going through a full offseason with the team. He admitted Sunday it was difficult picking up a new defense on the fly after being traded from the Lions midway through the 2016 season. He still performed well in a pseudo-starting role.
Thumbnail photo via Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports Images