NEPD Staff Writer: Matthew Jones
Defensive linemen Jonathan Fanene and Trevor Scott are two New England Patriots early free agent signings that have been overshadowed somewhat by the rookie draft picks and addition of Brandon Lloyd.
How are Scott and Fanene fitting in so far?
Signing former Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene was among the New England Patriots’ top free agent priorities this offseason; on March 14th, Fanene agreed to a three-year, $12 million contract with a $3.85 million signing bonus. Fanene’s lucrative signing bonus all but guarantees that he will be a member of New England’s final 53-man roster this season; more concerning to Patriots fans is where Fanene will be lining up on the field in 2012.
Listed at 6’4” and 285 pounds, Fanene played both defensive tackle and defensive end in Cincinnati’s aggressive four-man fronts last season, but his size could potentially project to three-man fronts at the defensive end or “five technique” spot as well; offseason uncertainty surrounding New England’s defensive scheme added to Fanene’s mystique.
So far in training camp, the Patriots have been operating primarily out of four-man sets, suggesting an emphasis on a lighter, more aggressive approach; the team has been regularly rotating their defensive ends but Fanene is primarily working with the second team as a defensive tackle, with Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork lining up with the first team. For now, expect Fanene to contribute as a rotational player in the four-man fronts (especially as a situational interior rusher on passing downs), with the possibility of seeing increased snaps as the season continues; a rotational role is nothing new to Fanene after playing in Cincinnati, and he was still able to collect 6.5 sacks in 2011.
Fanene has reportedly been giving New England’s offensive linemen trouble with his combination of size and power and will hopefully end up producing in a role similar to Mike Wright’s in years past; his ability to win one-on-one battles with interior linemen should prove valuable heading into the 2012 season.
The addition of former Oakland Raiders defensive end Trevor Scott on a one-year, $1.15 million deal with $250,000 guaranteed represented a smaller financial risk than the Fanene signing. Scott spent four years with the Raiders after being selected in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. He initially outperformed his draft slot, recording five sacks as a rookie in 2008 and seven as a sophomore in 2009 in just six total starts. However, Scott suffered a torn ACL in 2010 following a disappointing season; he got to the quarterback for just 1.5 sacks over 10 starts. Scott returned to play in all 16 contests in 2011 but struggled to regain his initial athleticism. He did not start any games or earn a single sack.
Scott has reportedly seen some work with the first team in New England’s four-man fronts and a little bit of time as an outside linebacker in three-man fronts as well during training camp, flashing some of the athleticism he displayed at his collegiate pro day at the University of Buffalo (4.54 in the 40-yard dash, 4.19 in the short shuttle, 6.84 in the cone drill.)
Any production Scott can offer the Patriots in 2012 will be valuable, and his repertoire of pass-rush moves has allowed him to steal a significant number of playing time from 2010 second-round pick Jermaine Cunningham as well as 2012 first-and-third round picks Chandler Jones and Jake Bequette.
Scott is not quite as fluid as the players previously mentioned and may eventually be usurped on the depth chart as the younger players adjust to the pro game, but he earned an award from head coach Bill Belichick for his work during the offseason program and should have the opportunity to compete for a starting job during training camp as well as the preseason. Comparisons to 2011 free-agent gem Mark Anderson may be premature, but at this point Scott appears likely to make the 53-man roster and it would be no surprise if Scott gathered a few sacks over the upcoming season.