FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Patriots coach Bill Belichick has made no secret of his intention to upgrade the team’s defensive line and, with it, the pass rush.
That’s why there are 18 defensive linemen in camp as of Sunday, including four established veterans who were recently obtained through free agency or trade: Shaun Ellis, Albert Haynesworth, Mark Anderson and Andre Carter.
That has led to speculation the Patriots will employ more of a 4-3 defensive front instead of the 3-4 more commonly seen in recent seasons. With their current numbers, the Patriots could have an 11-0 front with plenty in reserve.
Pepper Johnson, who has been defensive line coach since 2004 after serving as linebackers coach, was asked Sunday to name the most challenging aspect of having so many new players coming in.
His answer? Bill Belichick.
“It doesn’t matter what player comes out here, he wants this done, so it doesn’t matter who comes out here,” he said.
Johnson said he believes he can get the best out of any player. “That’s what Coach (Belichick) expects and that’s the reason why I’m here. I like to believe he had a lot of confidence in me as a player. That’s why I’m on his coaching staff. So, whichever player he puts in front of me, it doesn’t matter; I’m going to coach him the way Coach Belichick wants him coached.”
Johnson said he has already established a solid relationship with Haynesworth, whom he called “a great person.” Haynesworth has been struggling to get back on the practice field; he has been MIA for the past couple of weeks.
“I think he is excited about being here; I think he’s excited about playing football,” said Johnson. “Of course, he’s one of the best defensive lineman in the league, so I’m quite sure he’s going to make a big difference when we get out on the field.”
Johnson was asked if having Vince Wilfork as a teammate has eased Haynesworth’s transition. “Vince helps everybody. Him and Jerod Mayo — those guys, they’re remarkable with everybody. Vince has helped guys back there in the secondary — that’s his knowledge of football so for another defensive lineman, that’s nothing to him.”
Wilfork said the constant swirl of bodies around him on the defensive line has been no big deal. “Every year you have players coming in and out. This year it’s a little different just because of how we started without the OTAs and the mini-camps and stuff like that, but other than that, it’s been the same.”
Wilfork says he tries to treat all the new faces the same way. “ You just try and get them in and get them acquainted with everyone and show them the ropes — how we do things around here.”
Wilfork said he preferred to lead by example. “If you’re doing the right thing, I always say people will flock to you.”
Johnson and other Patriot coaches and players have also been concerned with the situation of former Patriot player and coach Corwin Brown, who was fired from his position as defensive backs coach with the team in February. He is in Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Ind. after suffering an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound during a tense standoff with police after a domestic dispute Friday in Granger, Ind.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said Johnson. “I mean, it was a stunner just getting the news. Right now, there’s just too much other stuff going on. It’s kind of hard to grasp it right now.”
Johnson says he is spending a couple of hours after practice each night trying to find out as much information as he can get.
NOTES: Guard Logan Mankins said he was happy with his six-year, $51 million contract. “It’s great. I’m really happy to be staying here for hopefully the rest of my career. I want to thank the Krafts and their family, coach (Bill) Belichick, and the guys upstairs. I’m glad this is done with; I am very happy.” The odds of Tom Brady seeing action Thursday against Tampa Bay went up when ve teran left tackle Matt Light was able to practice Saturday and Sunday. Light, recovering from a shoulder injury, participated in drills both days, but didn’t participate in the 11-on-11 part of pra ctice either day. The Patriots signed veteran free agent LB Niko Koutouvides Sunday. Koutouvides, 6-2, 238 pounds, from Purdue, is a veteran of seven NFL seasons … Training camp ends Tuesday. … Tom Brady and Chad Ochocinco combined on two long, crowd-pleasing bombs during practice. … Placekicker Stephen Gostkowski, coming back from a thigh injury, boomed what appeared to be a 60-yard f ield goal during practice.