In the time leading up to the beginning of training camp, we will be bringing you previews for each New England Patriots positional group. Up next is the defensive ends.
Defensive Ends: (6)
Looking at this group of defensive ends, I think it is pretty straightforward. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are entrenched as the starters, while Will Smith and Michael Buchanan will aim to be the top backups.
Jones and Ninkovich are two very good players, and if they are given the proper rest this upcoming season, they will put up some great numbers. Jones is now in his third year, and he continues to improve his pass rush technique, as well as setting the edge against the run. The same can be said for Ninkovich, although his forte is his run defense, as he is one of the best in the league at setting the edge.
The real intrigue here that we will have to watch come training camp is how veteran Will Smith looks. Smith is an accomplished pass rusher in this league, playing in New Orleans for nine seasons. In that time, he racked up 67.5 sacks, as well as forcing 20 fumbles. But he is 32 years old, and is coming off a major knee injury that kept him out of the entire 2013 season.
So the question is, which Will Smith will we see this year?
Will it be the seasoned veteran, who knows how to pressure the quarterback, or the washed up, injury-prone old guy? I have a feeling that Smith will turn out to be a great acquisition for New England, and while he certainly won’t give them a double digit sacks season, he has the talent to make a big difference in Foxboro. He will be going up against stiff competition in camp, as tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer are two of the best in the game. If Smith can get it done against those two, he can produce against pretty much anybody in the NFL.
I like Michael Buchanan’s game as well, and I am expecting him to impress in a few weeks. He is young, athletic, and with another year of experience under his belt, I think he will service as a fine backup to Jones and Ninkovich in 2014.
Contrary to popular belief, the defensive ends had a fine 2013 campaign for the Pats. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich were just on the field way too much, which fatigued them, and it dropped their performance level significantly. If no one emerges as quality backups this year, then the Patriots may be in a bit of trouble. Bill Belichick can’t have Jones and Ninkovich playing 95% of the defensive snaps and except them to continuously play at a high level.
However if Buchanan and Smith (and maybe Zach Moore?) can show that they will be able to give the starters a rest, and continue to produce, New England’s sack numbers will sky-rocket in 2014.