In the late 2000s, the New England Patriots started to move away from the 3-4 base defensive looks that have helped them win three Super Bowls early in the decade. Instead, head coach Bill Belichick started to implement a 4-3 system. While it has since further evolved due to the rise of nickel and dime packages as the new base looks, the core ideas are still in place — and reflected in the players acquired to perform in the scheme.
This summer, however, the Patriots experimented with more classic 3-4 alignments (that would probably be morphed into a 3-3 in nickel looks with five defensive backs on the field). Considering this and the personnel currently under contract, a move back to the ‘traditional’ Belichick defense seems to be on the table — at least as much as possible, considering that the hybrid ideas will still stay in place no matter of the front.
That being said, the Patriots playing more traditional 3-man fronts could change the individual responsibilities of the front-seven defenders on a play-to-play basis. One of them, however, is not worried about any changes to his routine: offseason trade acquisition Michael Bennett, one of the most experienced players on New England’s entire roster, is not worried about the team either following the 3-4 or the 4-3 base principles.
“I think it’s all the same,” said Bennett, who was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles in March. “I’ve played in all different defenses. It’s just about your attitude really, and trying to make the best of each position and finding out how to dominate that position. It takes a little time, but once you figure it out, it’s the best part of it. I think later in your career, being in the same position and doing the same things doesn’t allow you to grow.”
“So when you get into a position with a team that’s pushing you to do different things and becoming uncomfortable in it, it kind of allows you to grow in your own craft,” the ten-year veteran, who is now on his fourth team since joining the NFL as an undrafted rookie in 2009, continued. “I think this is a good opportunity for me to grow in my own craft, learning new defenses, learning new terminology, learning new players — it’s fun.”
While a lot is put on Bennett’s plate when it comes to adapting to a new environment both on and off the field, the 33-year-old does not seem to be worried about getting up to speed — and his first few training camp practices show this: he looks right at home and is continuously one of the most disruptive players during 1-on-1 drills and in team sessions. While he has yet to show it in a game, Bennett’s early success is encouraging.
For the first-year Patriot, how the team uses his skillset is the underlying reason for this. “I think they just want me to do what I do well, but do it in the scheme of what we’re doing,” said Bennett when speaking about his ability to adapt to a new defensive system after Tuesday’s walkthrough practice. “That’s the greatest thing about it, they’re not asking me to do something I’m uncomfortable with.”
“I’ve played four-technique before, I’ve played five-technique, I’ve played nine, I’ve played zero, I’ve played one, I’ve played two — all of that. It’s all the same to me really. It’s just lining up and dominating the person in front of you, and just having more will than he has, and just doing it play-in and play-out and doing it with your teammates,” continued Bennett.
Moving between 3-4 and 4-3 alignments therefore does not seem to present much of a challenge for him. It will be interesting, however, to see how the Patriots will generally implement their 2019 defense. After all, the team has a versatile mix of players suited to play both fronts: while Mike Pennel and Danny Shelton are prototypical zero-technique nose tackles in a 3-4, for example, Adam Butler and Deatrich Wise Jr. have the skill sets to play in a 4-3. The team’s linebacker corps, meanwhile, is expected to succeed in both.
For Bennett, any questions will be answered on the field anyway: “Did you just see me out there right now? I think it’s been going pretty good, it’s always good. I look forward to a challenge. I’ve never been in a defense where I didn’t play good, so I feel like I’m just going to go out there and just do the best I can really,” he said. “I think that’s a great challenge and I look forward to those types of challenges, especially now.”