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 Chris Long.
Name: Chris Long
Position: Defensive end
Jersey number: 95
Size: 6’3, 270 lbs.
2015 review: After playing only six games in 2014 because of injury, Chris Long’s 2015 campaign was only marginally better when it comes to his health. Overall, the veteran appeared in 12 of the then-St. Louis Rams’ 16 games last year as a rotational player on the team’s defensive edge. Long was forced to sit out weeks 7 to 10 because of a knee injury, while also dealing with ankle issue throughout the year.
When he was on the field, Long had one of the least productive seasons of his eight-year career. The former second overall draft pick finished with 19 tackles, 3.0 sacks and one forced fumbles while playing 41.8% of the Rams’ defensive snaps (482 of 1,157). The Rams parted ways with Long in February to create cap space. The veteran left the franchise without ever having experienced a winning season or reaching the playoffs.
2016 preview: On March 18, three days after the team traded Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals, the Patriots signed Chris Long to a 1-year, $2.0 million contract. While Long is not expected to replace Jones one-for-one, he is projected to become a vital member of New England’s rotation on the defensive edge – a role that might suit the 31-year old well given his recent injury issues and the fact that he is getting up in age.
Long brings a lot of experience and smarts to the table and should be able to quickly adapt to the Patriots’ defensive scheme. While the Rams play a more aggressive style of defense, New England places more focus on controlling the line of scrimmage and setting the edge against the run. The latter is something Long needs to work on. While he has been a successful pass rusher – especially when healthy –, Long has not been as consistent in the running game.
Overall, though, he brings a lot of talent to the table and is currently projected to be the team’s number three at defensive end – and could also be an option as defensive tackle. Given this versatility and the experience that goes along with it, Long could not only help the Patriots this year but also beyond: as a potential tutor for young edge defenders Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom.
Chris Long is no Chandler Jones. However, the Patriots do not need him to be in order for Long to become a successful free agency acquisition. He simply needs to provide leadership, help take some pressure off both projected starters Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich, who is projected to miss the next few weeks due to a triceps injury, as well as young guys Flowers and Grissom and make the best out of the limited snaps he is about to see.