By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — All offseason long, the overriding story surround the Patriots has centered on all of the players who left. While the team certainly did lose slightly more players than usual, the fact is that constant change is simply a fact of life in the NFL.
It’s the second part of that story which will determine the fate of the 2020 Patriots. And Chase Winovich figures to be a significant part of that endeavor.
That effort got off to a promising start on Sunday for the second-year defensive lineman. Winovich recorded six tackles — including one for a loss — while also registering a quarterback hit. But it was his snap count — 42 plays, or 68 percent of the team’s defensive snaps — that showed the most significant step forward for Winovich.
A smiling Winovich told the media on Monday that he knew all offseason that he’d have an opportunity to seize an increased role. It was a challenge that Winovich said he’s embraced.
“It was great. It was definitely something I put my mind to this offseason to prepare for, you know, possibly an expanded role,” Winovich said. “With that, there’s different things you need to be concerned about because obviously when you’re just playing as a third-down pass rusher, your focus is more of a niche. But when you have to be concerned with every single down and every single type of situation, that’s where knowledge and experience as a football player come into play. Every week, I’m looking forward to whatever challenges come my way. Obviously there’s more things that you have to prepare for trying to be an every-down kind of player. I’m embracing that challenge, and we’ve got great coaches and great teammates to really help guide my learning and make my play on the field as best as possible.”
Last year, Winovich was on the field for a tick under 29 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, primarily as a third-down pass rusher. In the team’s lone playoff game, Winovich was on the field for just two defensive snaps.
But on Sunday, with Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy and Danny Shelton gone from the defense, Winovich was filling a number of roles on all downs during Sunday’s 21-11 win. He made run stops on back-to-back plays in the first quarter, the second of which resulted in a tackle for a loss. He also spent some time at nose tackle, a position he’d never played before but one which he nevertheless embraced over the summer.
“It definitely wasn’t expected, but it worked really well in camp,” Winovich shared. “And it was one of those things that I’m not sure of Coach’s inspiration for it, but he told me to go down there, and I said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna do the best I can and kind of use my skill set in kind of an untraditional manner for that position at that part of the field.’ But I felt like I held my own, and it was pretty fun. It’s pretty interesting being down there, some big boys in there, I’ll tell you what. But it was fun.”
After Sunday’s win, Bill Belichick acknowledged that Winovich has covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time after his rookie season.
“I think Chase has been a good player for us and that he played well last year. We had some other experienced players last year, Kyle and Jamie, and so there was just some other players playing ahead of him, and now he’s the most experienced player along with John Simon. So that shifted quickly in a year,” Belichick said. “But Chase has done a good job for us on all downs. When he played last year he was productive on a per-play basis and I thought he showed that [Sunday]. But Chase has got good energy, he’s in good condition, he’s got good stamina, he’s got speed, he’s got power and he’s a very instinctive player. So, I would expect him to be out on the field a good part of the time in all games.”
Winovich said Monday that in looking back at the film, he can tell that he’s noticeably added some size and strength, and he credited his growth to his coaches and teammates — specifically Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise.
“Whenever I got to New England, I realized the version that I needed to be wasn’t what I currently was, and so I had to kind of expand. And part of that process is recognizing some of your weaknesses,” Winovich said. “Obviously the ones on the surface just in terms of things that matter as a football player, just breaking down — just making sure everything was up to par as an NFL player. And I felt like just watching the film from yesterday, and I think this is a relatively general observation, I look stronger, I look bigger, I feel like my technique was better. I felt like some of those changes were in a weird — I don’t want to say obvious — but there is definitely an improvement and a lot of that goes back to my coaches for guiding me in the right direction and putting me in a great position, as well as my teammates for lending their expertise to me.”
It was only one game, but it’s also been the only game. As Winovich tries to turn Week 1’s reliability into a season-long performance, his first step was right on track.