During his 2019 rookie season, Chase Winovich’s role with the New England Patriots was rather one-dimensional. He mostly saw the field as a situational pass rusher asked to play downhill from one of the outside linebacker spots. With veterans Kyle Van Noy and John Simon in the fold and move options Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins also available, there simply was no need for the third-round draft pick to be given more responsibilities.
A lot of things have changed over the last year, though. Not only are Van Noy, Hightower and Collins all gone — Van Noy and Collins left in free agency, Hightower via the Covid-19 opt-out clause — Winovich has also grown quite a bit: he is no longer “just” a role player but a starter and true three-down linebacker capable of making impact plays not just as a pass rusher but a run defender as well.
Most recently, he also started standing out in coverage as well. That did not come naturally for him, though, as Bill Belichick pointed out during a recent media conference call.
“That’s been a big adjustment for Chase since he got here. He didn’t have much coverage at Michigan and learning coverage responsibilities here — primarily on the line of scrimmage but he’s been off the line of scrimmage sometimes as well — that’s been something that he’s had to learn. But he’s worked on it,” the Patriots’ head coach said.
“Chase has improved his coverage and he works hard on that. He really does. John Simon and those guys have helped him a lot, but he’s embraced it and is willing to do whatever he can to help the team. Sometimes that’s covering a man or filling up a zone.”
Winovich, according to Pro Football Focus, has dropped back into coverage on 31 snaps so far this season compared to only six such plays in 2019. That uptick in opportunities comes naturally with his expanded role on the defensive edge, but it has yielded results recently. Last week against the Arizona Cardinals, he tipped a pass on the line of scrimmage and also could have had an interception if not for Adrian Phillips out-jumping him for the pick.
On Sunday versus the Los Angeles Chargers, however, he finally was able to grab the first interception of his career. In the early third quarter, he perfectly read a pass across the formation and undercut the route. It was an impressive play by the 25-year-old, and one Belichick highlighted afterwards.
“Chase is a pretty instinctive player. He has a pretty good sense of where to go and what to do,” he said. “On that particular play, they were trying to throw the ball out in the flat to our left and they had a pick route called and we covered that. [Justin] Herbert stopped and Chase had a good break on the ball. He saw the throw, made a good break on the ball, made a good interception in traffic.
“I think he got hit and had some contact as he was picking off the ball, but it looked like Herbert was trying to come off the initial read and Chase read it well, made a good catch, which for a defensive lineman, that’s not something they do a lot of it. But, that was a good catch in traffic and a big play for us.”
His interception of Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert set up an eventual touchdown, and was the latest impact play for Winovich this year. He is also leading the Patriots with 3.5 sacks and has also forced one fumble. While not always standing out on the stat sheet, he is developing into a valuable player for New England’s defense and a complete linebacker.