NEPD Staff Writer: Oliver Thomas
With the 90th overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, the New England Patriots selected an accomplished Arkansas defensive end named Jake Bequette.
The 6’5”, 265-pound redshirt senior was a four-year starter as well as a two-time team captain for the Razorbacks. And after amassing 23.5 sacks, 35 quarterback pressures and 32.5 tackles for loss over the course of his career in Fayetteville, his resume stood on its own two legs.
Scouting reports had Bequette down as a “high-motor” prospect who displayed “versatility” and “quickness” while playing in an “elite conference” like the SEC. All four of those characteristics coincide with Bill Belichick’s draft history, so it wasn’t a complete surprise to hear Bequette’s name announced to the Patriots.
When Bequette showed up at training camp last July, he was tested in multiple facets. He had his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 end, but also stood up as a 3-4 outside linebacker — a spot he began familiarizing with down at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Bequette insisted that it didn’t matter to him where he lined up in the pros. He did, however, admit to Adam Kurkjian of The Boston Herald (h/t Karen Guregian) that changing over from the college game is far from a turn-key process:
“Well, I couldn’t point to one thing (that’s toughest about the transition to the pros). It’s a bunch of things. Not that I’m overwhelmed, but there’s a lot of things you have to do every day on the field, off the field, in the weight room, learning a new system. It’s a great challenge and I love improving.”
Getting acclimated to the heightened speed, strength and skill level of the NFL was certainly a challenge for Bequette. The 2012 regular season was evidence of that. By the time September rolled around it was clear that his rookie campaign was going to be a developmental one.
Bequette’s biggest triumphs were not witnessed inside Gillette Stadium; they were witnessed outside on the practice fields. It was there that Bequette helped prepare New England’s offense for the unique looks of the next opponent. In layman’s terms, he a member of the scout team, striving to better himself while also bettering the team itself.
Despite battling anonymity of playing on the “looks team,” Bequette’s labors did not go unnoticed. Although he was often unseen by the eyes of television cameras, he still managed to garner recognition from the coaching staff. Most notably, he was awarded a black No. 92 practice jersey for his efforts leading up to the Patriots’ 29-26 victory over the New York Jets in October.
That said, NFL success is determined by a player’s in-game feats, not in-practice ones. By the time his first NFL season was in the books, Bequette had logged time in just three regular season contests. And after averaging one sack per game in 2011, Bequette finished the year with a clean stat sheet: no tackles and no sacks.
Despite being a Day 2 draft choice, Bequette was eclipsed on the depth chart by Justin Francis — an undrafted rookie out of Rutgers — and Trevor Scott — a 28-year-old whose production slipped after tearing an ACL as a member of the Oakland Raiders in 2010.
Not only did Francis and Scott contribute in the defensive end rotation, they contributed on special teams. Bequette, on the other hand, did not. Does Bequette’s minimal workload say about more Francis and Scott? Or does it say more about Bequette?
Bequette was on the field for a mere 29 snaps last season, per FootballOutsiders.com. Divvied up, that total accounts for just three percent of New England’s defensive snaps. That’s probably not the capacity he, nor Belichick, had in mind.
In search of some answers about his utilization and performance, I turned to the tale of the tape. How did Bequette fare when given an opportunity? How was he implemented? Did he provide the glimpses New England’s brass had hoped for out of third-round investment?
Let’s take a look.
Week 4 versus Buffalo Bills
– Bequette’s first career NFL snap comes with 4:02 remaining in fourth quarter. He’s lined up at right end facing Buffalo left tackle Chris Hairston in four-man front. A contested fight, the play concludes with Bequette just three yards away from Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who throws an interception.
– On a Tashard Choice carry behind left guard Andy Levitre, Bequette loses leverage, gets caugh on his heels, and ultimately is pushed outside the hashes. Nevertheless, he disengages and falls on the tackle pile late.
– Bequette gets a solid bull rush on Hairston, except his momentum sways him inside to a double-team with Levitre. The rookie loses balance and falls to his knees while the halfback rushes down the right sideline.
– With Ryan Fitzpatrick in shotgun, Bequette gets a good jump off the line of scrimmage and runs the arc around the left tackle. After Fitzpatrick checks down the halfback in the flat, Bequette continues his pursuit despite being out of the play.
– Bequette finishes out the game in frustrating fashion, getting blocked by the slot receiver while running back Johnny White carries the ball up the gut. Bequette gets a hand on White, but it’s not enough to bring him down.
Week 8 versus St. Louis Rams
– Lines up at left end with 10:51 left in the fourth quarter. Starting off against a tight end, Bequette goes against grain into a zone run-blocking scheme. Consequently, he falls down in a pile away from halfback Daryl Richardson’s off-tackle run.
– Bequette is called for encroachment, as he and Jermaine Cunningham cross through the line uninterrupted.
– Playing as a stand-up linebacker off the edge after the tight end goes in motion, Bequette is met by the receiving blocker and gets pushed outside before being finished off by the right tackle as quarterback Sam Bradford dumps it off.
– A halfback power off the right side causes Bequette to be outmuscled by blockers.
– Switches to right defensive end after being replaced by Justin Francis at left. Pushes and shoved with the left tackle as Isaiah Pead runs off right tackle.
– Pushed back by left tackle and left guard as backup quarterback Kellen Clemens scrambles down right sideline.
– Tight end anchors against Bequette, which keeps him from making a tackle on Clemens, who fumbled the snap.
– Left tackle Roger Saffold extends his arms on Bequette, locking him up. Meanwhile, Clemens passes deep left to wide receiver Brian Quick.
– Bequette evades Saffold, but is swarmed by the left guard. He can’t proceed further to make a stop on Pead.
– Lined up directly over Saffold, Bequette forges his way into the backfield and gets a hand up as Clemens double-pumps and releases the ball. The pass ends up getting intercepted in the end zone.
Week 13 versus Miami Dolphins
– Enters the game with 4:48 left in the first quarter as the left end with Jerod Mayo standing up to his right in a hybrid alignment. Of all three D-linemen, Bequette ends up furthest away from Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill when the ball his released.
– Subs in as the left end in a 3-4 with Scott standing up to his left. Breaks through line with strength, forcing Tannehill to step up and scramble. Bequette chases him down but is out of reach.
– Returns to the game in the second quarter and is greeted by an interior wall that consumes him.
-He keeps his legs driving out of the three-technique as he brushes up with the right tackle, although he doesn’t have the angle to make a play.
– Lining up as a three-technique with Rob Ninkovich on his left shoulder, Bequette charges ahead. He is met by the center and right guard, as Tannehill is flushed out of the pocket.
– Lines up with Ninkovich off his right shoulder, Bequette penetrates outside and turned the corner as Tannehill releases his pass.
– Pushes off left guard Richie Incognito, rips out of three blockers and cuts inside, hitting Tannehill shortly after his throw.
– The centerpiece in a three-man front, Bequette shoves Dolphins right guard John Jerry into center Mike Pouncey. Yet Tannehill gets the throw off relatively unharmed.
Year one is in the books, but there’s no true conclusion branded on Bequette just yet. Of course, you’d hope a top-90 draft pick would be able to secure a role in the pass-rushing carousel as a rookie.
Obviously, that just didn’t come to fruition, as Bequette was unable to sustain a niche in the defense.
But from the very small sample size of game film available on Bequette, it is interesting to note how his application altered over time. He began as primarily a 4-3 end who could play a little bit of the “Elephant” position. Then by his last game, he was often posted up inside as a three-tech in an exotic front.
Was that personnel decision based on the opponent? Was it based on New England’s lack of interior pass rush? Or was it simply based on where Bequette’s skillset was best suited?
The answer could be any one of those three, or all of them. Regardless, it doesn’t look like the Patriots are going to make it easy for Bequette to establish himself. Defensive end is more of a logjam than it was in 2012, and the same can be said for defensive tackle.
Because of that, year two will be all the more pivotal for him. As much as he can’t be written off, his “redshirt” rookie year has expired. Bequette now has to carve his place in New England’s front.