The theme of the New England Patriots’ free agency period is a simple one: see weakness, attack weakness. Whether it was tight end, wide receiver or the defensive edge, the team identified multiple spots worth investing in and did just that.
While all those position groups were bolstered since the start of the legal tampering period last Monday, none saw more turnover than defensive tackle. Adam Butler has left for Miami, while Lawrence Guy remains on the open market. New England, meanwhile, re-signed Deatrich Wise Jr. and Carl Davis while also plugging Davon Godchaux, Montravius Adams and Henry Anderson from the open market.
Out of that group, no player brings more experience to the table than Anderson. A former third-round draft pick, the 29-year-old has played 74 games over the course of a career that saw him wear the Indianapolis Colts’ and the New York Jets’ colors.
He will get to wear the Patriots’ now, and it seems as if he feels pretty good about that.
“I’ve always felt that’s a defense that I would fit well in,” said Anderson during his introductory media conference call on Monday. “I’ll let the coaching staff figure it out, and I’m sure those conversations will continue as far as what the role’s going to be. I’m just looking forward to getting started and earn a spot on the defense and help this defense, and help this team, win.”
A big-bodied defender that is listed at 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, Anderson should help with one area in particular: improving a run defense that ranked in the bottom third in the league in most conventional and advanced statistics. Together with the other free agents brought aboard, he is projected to play a prominent role in a much-needed turnaround for the unit.
His prowess in this area — Anderson recorded the third-highest run-stuff percentage in 2020, according to NFL NextGen Stats — is certainly an asset, but so is his versatility.
“I’ve honestly played anywhere from like a 9-tech to head-up on the center,” the six-year veteran said. “Obviously, I’m not the typical nose tackle body but I’m comfortable really anywhere. I’ve two-gapped, the last two years in New York it’s been really more of a penetrating defense. Got really comfortable in that, lot of reps — lot of practice and game reps playing in that style of defense. Used to both.
“It’s been helping me mature as a player and it’s kind of exposed me to different things that I need to work on, and different things that I’ve found other strengths and weaknesses [in] that I realized I had playing in multiple different schemes. Whatever the coaches want me to do, I’m going to work my tail off to get as good in that role as I can and earn a spot on this defense and help the team.”
Anderson’s mindset of just doing what he will be asked to do already fits in well with the Patriots’ approach to defense and team building in general. What also should help him, though, is his experience playing in 3-4-based defense.
New England has always employed hybrid fronts, but over the last two seasons started to incorporate more 3-4 looks up front. Having a stout nose tackle like Davon Godchaux is important to properly play that kind of gap-control defense, and so is being stout at the end positions — one of which being expected to go to Anderson.
“Their base is a 3-4, which I’ve been comfortable in and that’s what I’ve played my entire career and all throughout college. That’s the scheme that I was in,” he said. “Comfortable in a 3-4 and throughout my career I’ve been asked to do a lot of different things across the line of scrimmage. I think that I should fit in well with this scheme.”
Regardless of what the Patriots eventually ask him to do, Anderson expressed plenty of confidence in his ability to do that. Setting the edge? Sure. Attacking from the interior techniques? You bet. Pressuring the quarterback? Why not?
“The last couple of years with the Jets I was asked to set the edge, I was moving up and down the line of scrimmage a lot. I feel pretty comfortable out there on the edge, setting the edge, forcing the ball back into the interior of the line. If that’s something the coaching staff wants me to do, I feel comfortable with that,” said the Stanford product.
“I’ll kind of let them determine where they want to put me and what they want to do. Whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to do my best to excel in that role and hopefully help this defense and help this team win. Over the years, I played pretty much every position on the line of scrimmage and feel comfortable anywhere. Whatever I’m asked to do, I’m going to continue to try to improve and help this defense.”