The New England Patriots‘ 2016 training camp is underway. Players fight for practice repetitions and playing time to earn one of the 53 spots on the roster. They have until late August, when each team has to start making its roster cuts, to secure a role.
Until then, players have to secure their spots on the team; they need to do their jobs (well) or someone else will. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots on the 2016 New England Patriots. Today, we’ll continue the series with defensive end Jabaal Sheard.
Name: Jabaal Sheard
Position: Defensive end
Jersey number: 93
Size: 6’3, 265 lbs.
2015 review: After spending the first four seasons of his career with the Cleveland Browns, Sheard joined the Patriots as an unrestricted free agent last offseason. The former second-round draft pick signed a 2-year, $11.0 million contract with New England and joined Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich as a top rotational edge defender. As such, Sheard played 15 of the Patriots’ 18 games – missing three because of an ankle injury – and 668 of a possible 1,249 defensive snaps (53.5%); the third-most of the three defensive ends.
Sheard finished the season with 47 tackles as he was arguably the Patriots’ most consistent edge defender against both the run and the pass. He added 8.0 sacks, eight quarterback hits and 16 pressures while drawing a team-high 16 penalties. Furthermore, the first-year Patriot forced four fumbles and broke up one pass. He also had 11 run stuffs, most on the team.
2016 preview: When the Patriots traded Chandler Jones, their most productive pass rusher of the last four years, to the Arizona Cardinals, Sheard was thrust into a starting role on the defensive edge opposite Rob Ninkovich. Consequently, his workload might increase a little, but New England will still employ a rotation on the defensive edges – with veteran free agent acquisition Chris Long and second-year players Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom a part of it – to keep its rushers as fresh as possible.
Still, Sheard is projected play around 85% of the Patriots’ snaps as a three-down defender; both on the edge and as a part-time defensive tackle in the team’s pass rushing packages. Being prominently featured on the defensive edge is nothing new to the 27-year old: he has been used in this capacity in Cleveland and in Foxboro as well. After all, Sheard has played the second most defensive end snaps during New England’s playoff run behind only Ninkovich.
If Sheard is able to build upon his playoff performance and an overall very promising first year in New England, the Patriots’ defensive success will not change despite Jones now playing in the NFC West. After all, Sheard has the tools to be a very good edge defender for the team.
The Patriots have had one of the best defenses in the NFL last season and both Sheard and Jones were integral parts of it. With Jones gone, Sheard has to rise to the challenge of consistently being the number one option at the position. Judging by last year, he should be able to do that.