ALLEN PARK, Mich. — One of the most popular players at Tuesday’s New England Patriots-Detroit Lions joint practice was playing for the road team.
That player was Patriots rookie edge rusher Chase Winovich, who starred down the road at the University of Michigan and still occupies a special place in the hearts of many Lions fans.
“It was really humbling just to see all these people out here in Lions jerseys cheering my name,” Winovich said. “It was kind of funny.”
Winovich gave those Wolverines diehards — a group that included his father, mother, close family friend, goddaughter and niece — plenty of reasons to hoot and holler. Tuesday’s practice was arguably the best of training camp for the long-haired 24-year-old, who continuously flashed in both individual and team drills.
During 1-on-1s against Lions offensive linemen, Winovich scored two decisive victories over Ryan Pope, including a drawn hold; another over Matt Nelson off a stunt; and a fourth over Taylor Decker.
Pope and Nelson are undrafted rookies — most of Winovich’s wins this summer have come against second- and third-teamers — but Decker is the Lions’ starting left tackle. (He also happens to be an Ohio State alum, which prompted an especially loud ovation from the Michigan faithful.)
“For me, they’re just a suit,” Winovich said. “You take each guy individually and you learn from their previous pass-rush reps. I had a couple pages of notes just looking at those guys. (I’m) just trying to be the best player I can be and learn from it.”
Winovich remained involved once 11-on-11s began. Running with the second team, he registered two sacks — or rushes that would have been sacks were he allowed to hit the quarterback. He also threw in a big-time special teams play for good measure, laying out Lions receiver Brandon Powell while flying downfield on kickoff coverage.
The lone mark in the negative column for Winovich came during the final defensive period, when he was whistled for illegal hands to the face and forced to run a punishment lap. He bounced back with a sack moments later to finish off an all-around impressive performance.
“I felt like I had a pretty good day today,” the second-round draft pick said. “… (But) I’m sure they’re going to get it corrected and get it fixed, so I’ve got to keep bringing my A-game every day.”
Though he has yet to see any time with the starting defense this summer, Winovich’s play has been promising — on Monday, he drove an offensive tackle directly into Lions backup QB Tom Savage and knocked him over — and his effort both on and off the field has endeared him to fellow Patriots defenders.
“He’s definitely got a high motor, that’s for sure,” veteran linebacker Dont’a Hightower said, repeating a compliment that appeared in nearly every Winovich scouting report ahead of the 2019 NFL Draft. “But he’s one of the guys who will work really hard, and he’s always asking questions. He obviously wants to do the right things all the time, and you really couldn’t ask much more for a guy who’s willing to do whatever.
“And then with the way he does it — he acts like he’s done it for a while, and he definitely follows the lead of (John) Simon or Kyle (Van Noy) or Jamie (Collins) or whoever he’s working with. He does a good job of just being a sponge.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick tempered expectations for Winovich but said he’s excited to see how the rookie performs Thursday in New England’s preseason opener.
“Well, he’s a rookie,” Belichick said before practice. “He needs to work on everything. But Chase is tough, he runs well, he’s got good size, good power. He had a very productive career at Michigan, and we’re looking forward to seeing him out there in some game action, both on defense and in the kicking game.
“But, like every rookie, he’s got a long way to go and a lot of things to work on. It’s a different game, and the competition’s very high. He’ll battle it and see how it goes.”