When the New England Patriots selected linebacker Chase Winovich in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, one of his perceived strengths was the relentless motor he exhibited while making splash plays as a run defender.
So, it was a bit of a surprise when Winovich was almost exclusively used in pass-rush situations as a rookie.
Nearly 82% of Winovich’s defensive snaps came against the pass in 2019 when he was on the field for just 28.9% of total defensive plays. But that ratio leveled out Sunday in the Patriots’ 21-11 Week 1 win over the Miami Dolphins when Winovich was on the field for 68% of total defensive snaps and 62.5 percent of snaps against the pass. Overall, Winovich played 42 total defensive snaps Sunday with 27 coming as a pass rusher and 15 as a run defender.
There are a couple of reasons why Winovich is seeing a more expanded role. The first, and most notable, is that the Patriots lost four linebackers from their 2019 roster. Dont’a Hightower opted out for the 2020 NFL season, and Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts were signed away in free agency.
“I think Chase has been a good player for us and that he played well last year,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Sunday. “Now he’s the most experienced player along with John Simon.
“So, that shifted quickly in a year, but Chase has done a good job for us on all downs. When he played last year he was productive on a per-play basis and I thought he showed that today. But Chase has got good energy, he’s in good condition, he’s got good stamina, he’s got speed, he’s got power and he’s a very instinctive player. So, I would expect him to be out on the field a good part of the time in all games.”
Winovich also made a concerted effort to become a complete player this offseason. And it paid off in Week 1. He led the Patriots with two quarterback hurries and three run stops as he primarily played right and left outside linebacker.
“When you have to be concerned with every single down and every single type of situation, that?s where knowledge and experience as a football player come into play,” Winovich said Monday. “Every week, I?m looking forward to whatever challenges come my way. Obviously, there?s more things that you have to prepare for trying to be an every-down kind of player. I?m embracing that challenge, and we’ve got great coaches and great teammates to really help guide my learning and make my play on the field as best as possible.”
Winovich spent time this offseason with linebackers coaches Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick learning the entire playbook, not just his role, in virtual meetings.
“He’s always had the physical tools — the speed, the quickness and the power, and also just — he’s a hustler,” Mayo said. “This guy’s always flying around. So, Chase has done a great job for us and I look forward to seeing him continue to grow.”
The Michigan product believes he’s already made major strides this offseason, and his Week 1 numbers tell the same story. He registered just 11 stops and 23 pressures in 293 total snaps last season meaning he’s well ahead of that pace already this season.
“I realized the version that I needed to be wasn’t what I currently was and so I had to expand,” Winovich said. “And part of that process is recognizing some of your weaknesses. I can’t really go into detail about those weaknesses, but obviously the ones on the surface just in terms of things that matter as a football player, just breaking down — just making sure everything was up to par as an NFL player. And I felt like, just watching the film from yesterday — and I think this is a relatively general observation — I look stronger, I look bigger, I feel like my technique was better.”
The Patriots even got creative with Winovich by putting him at nose tackle against the Dolphins. Winovich is about 100 pounds undersized for the role, but his ability to fire off of the snap and get into the backfield is why he’s appealing in that role.
“It definitely wasn’t expected, but it worked really well in camp and it was one of those things that I’m not sure of coach’s inspiration for it, but he told me to go down there,” Winovich said. “And I said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna do the best I can and kind of use my skill set in kind of an untraditional manner for that position at that part of the field.’ But I felt like I held my own, and it was pretty fun. It’s pretty interesting being down there, some big boys in there, I’ll tell you what, but it was fun.”
Winovich earned his first career start in Week 1, and from the sounds of things, it was the first of many to come.
Thumbnail photo via Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports Images