NEPD Staff Writer: Matthew Jones
Bill Belichick evidently saw upgrading the defensive line as a major area of need this past offseason, investing heavily first through free agency and then in the draft.
New England attempted to sign versatile run-stuffer Red Bryant, but Bryant eventually opted to re-sign with the Seattle Seahawks on a long-term deal; New England quickly brought former Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene into the fold with a three-year, $12 million contract ($3.85 million guaranteed) following Bryant’s decision.
Fanene, who turned 30 in March, possesses appealing size (6’4” and 290 pounds) as well as schematic versatility (having played all four defensive line spots during his tenure Cincinnati); Fanene is also an accomplished pass rusher, recording six sacks in 2009 and 6.5 sacks in 2011.
Despite being part of a deep defensive line rotation in Cincinnati which included Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson, Domata Peko, Robert Geathers, Frostee Rucker, Carlos Dunlap, and Pat Sims, Fanene worked his way onto the field for 487 snaps in 2011, the vast majority of those snaps coming on passing downs.
After evaluating Fanene’s Week 15 game against St. Louis last season, it appears as though Fanene may be able to help the Patriots as a situational pass rusher in a role similar to Mike Wright’s (who had a nearly identical build and played roughly the same number of snaps as Fanene.)
Fanene was generally asked to penetrate into the backfield by shooting gaps rather than assuming responsibility for gaps on either side of him; the Rams struggled to protect quarterback Kellen Clemens from Fanene, allowing the defensive lineman to record one sack and four pressures.
Bill Belichick’s philosophy is predicated on gap discipline in order to eliminate opponents’ ability to run between the tackles, but Fanene struggled when asked to anchor even against St. Louis’ weak offensive line.
Fans expecting Fanene to develop into an every-down player in New England based on the size of his contract may come away disappointed, although Fanene’s pass-rush skills should complement a Patriots defensive line which is primarily geared towards two-gap run stuffers. Mike Wright’s second consecutive season-ending concussion created an opening on the roster which Fanene should be able to replace; a reasonable projection for Fanene in 2012 would be around 400 snaps as well as six sacks or so.
Have a look at video of Fanene against the Rams below:
Tags: Free Agency