The New England Patriots pass rush is going to be strikingly different from the past few years. No Chandler Jones. No Dominique Easley. No Akiem Hicks in the middle.
The Patriots are going to have to rely on the unbreakable Rob Ninkovich (*New England collectively knocks on wood*), rising star Jabaal Sheard, and newcomer Chris Long.
We know what Ninkovich is at this point in his career, and it's assumed that Sheard will take over for Chandler's old role in the defensive front.
Let's talk about Long.
"I love the way we [the Patriots] go about business," Long said at Thursday's practice, via WEEI. "I love getting out here and competing. It was a competitive couple of days. I have lot to worry about to get to the point where I can do my job the way I want to do it here. There’s a lot of learning for me. I’m excited to learn and pick it up. You’ve just got to be a sponge."
Long is a 31 year old veteran that has spent his entire 8-year career with the Rams without a playoff game- and without a winning record. He's looking for his chance to see the playoffs and to finish his career with a team that gives him the best chance to win.
He's not taking anything for granted.
"I came in with no expectations," Long said. "I’m just here to do my job and do what I’m asked to do. Whatever the coaches want me to do, wherever I line up, I didn’t have any expectations. I just want to come in here and compete and help this team."
Long collected 41.5 sacks between 2010-13 before injuries derailed his past two seasons. He will likely adopt Sheard's role from last season as the pass rushing specialist, and as the extra body to give Ninkovich and Sheard some needed rest.
While Long is better known for being a pass rusher, he is going to have to work on adopting the Patriots style of defending the run. The Rams were known for their penetrating style of defense, while the Patriots care more about controlling the line of scrimmage and possibly allowing the linebackers to make plays.
When watching Long on tape, he seems like a good fit for the Patriots. He's still capable of holding his ground to set the edge against the run, and he gets good depth in the pass rush. One clear issue when it came to statistical production was how quickly teams appeared to get rid of the ball against the Rams, in order to avoid defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The stats definitely didn't tell the whole picture.
Long is going to adjust to the Patriots style of defense and he will learn alongside the team's possible future at the position- Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers, and Rufus Johnson.
"I’m out here with a great attitude every day, trying to get better and every day you try to re-prove yourself," Long said. "As a player, you should come out every day trying to re-prove yourself and that’s all I try to do every day. New situation, old situation, whatever, it’s just one day at a time for me."
"It’s just a great opportunity every day to hone my craft," Long added. "And try to adapt to what they’re doing and help the team in any way I can."
Long will be an important piece of the Patriots defense in 2016. He's going to be a lot of help.