Patriots Notebook: Linebacker Chase Winovich hoping for second-year leap

Given opt-outs, not to mention departures in the offseason impacting its linebacking corps, it makes sense that the Patriots are going to rely even more heavily on Chase Winovich this season.

Winovich is one of a significant cast of second-year players — N’Keal Harry, Yodny Cajuste, Damien Harris and Joejuan Williams the others —who need to make the proverbial leap.

The former Michigan linebacker is the most important defensive player in the group especially with Dont’a Hightower (opt-out), Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins (free agency) no longer in the mix.

During a video conference Monday, Winovich was asked about his anticipated growth as a player, not to mention having an enhanced role in 2020.

“I think potential, all that means is you haven’t done what you need to do yet. I don’t want to get that misconstrued. Potential is just air,” he told reporters. “What I’m focused on is what I can control and I can’t worry about what year it is. I need to worry about the process. I’ve really invested in that process and I know that I’ve taken steps this offseason to take that leap that I’m trying to hold myself accountable to and take that next step as an athlete.

“As a team, everyone needs to make that next step,” he went on. “I’m trying to do just that. I can’t really speak to what the future may bring or what that leap might look like. I just know I’ve been working extra hard to make sure it was better than last year.”

Winovich is the Patriots’ most productive returning pass-rusher. As a rookie, he had 25.5 disruptions (5.5 sacks, seven QB hits, 12 pressures) despite playing the 15th-most defensive snaps last season. But instead of being a situational player, he needs to do as well getting more snaps and being a more integral part of the defense. It remains to be seen if he’s as effective, with teams zeroing in on him as a primary player.

“I feel great out there. Only time will tell,” said Winovich. “It’s only a matter of putting in the work now and the rest will take care of itself.”

Winovich believes there’s still a lot of talent left in the linebacker room.

“I know that we’ve got a great room now. There’s a lot of great leadership between Derek Rivers and John Simon. All the guys coming along. Couple that with the rookies,” said Winovich, referring to Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings and Caash Maluia. “They’re young and they’re trying to get after it the best they can. This is football. The game we all love and sign up for. We’re just trying to get after it every single day. You can’t control the fact that we lost some players because this is the National Football League. That’s bound to happen. I’m just excited about the future.”

Williams, a 2019 second round pick, also addressed the second-year question. While there’s a logjam at the top cornerback positions, he might also see some action at safety.

“I feel like, for me, I’m excited about going into Year 2,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done and I’m just taking it day by day, but I’m pretty excited.”

Players pumped for pads

Practice observers said the Patriots seemed very enthusiastic for their first padded practice Monday, even without fans cheering them on.

“Man, honestly, it seemed awesome. Everyone was excited and ready to go. I was telling the guys in the locker room, it feels like we’re in Pop Warner again, just getting your pads again,” said safety Terrence Brooks. “There’s been a lot of guys, cooped up in the house, just waiting to do anything. I know for me, I thought for a while, just running into a few of my kids a few times, just to get that flow back. As for just getting out there, man, it felt great. Everyone is excited, everyone’s ready to go. I think everyone is just ready for this opportunity.”

Winovich agreed: “The energy across the board has been great. Everybody is bringing the juice is the best way to put it. People are excited to play football. We want to play. It’s football, baby. Let’s go.”

Chung departure sparks competition

With the departures of Patrick Chung (opt-out) and Duron Harmon (trade), there are spots up for grabs in the safety room.

Chung’s strong safety role should spark a healthy competition with Brooks, Adrian Phillips and rookie Kyle Dugger.

“I think everyone realizes the opportunity is there. I’m very close with Patrick, actually. I wish him all the best with his decision,” said Brooks. “As for us, we’re literally all trying to go out and get better each and every day. You are friends, but once you step on the field, there is competition against the guys who are in your position, as well as the guys across from the ball.

“I don’t think anybody is acting different because Patrick’s gone,” he added. “I think mostly, everyone is excited for the opportunity to go out and compete. I can’t worry about the next man, I just gotta wake up every morning and go out there and get it, like I’m supposed to.”

Patriots add to roster

The Patriots signed a pair of tight ends, Paul Butler and Alex Ellis. They also added offensive lineman Ben Braden, who is primarily a guard. All three participated in practice on Monday, a source confirmed.

Butler and Ellis reportedly were worked out by the Patriots on Sunday. They join a tight end room which also has Ryan Izzo along with rookies Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene, Jake Burt and Rashod Berry. The duo add a bit of experience to the mix.

Butler and Ellis have played with multiple teams. Ellis has spent time with five different teams since being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee in 2016. He has three career receptions for 11 yards.

Ellis signed with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent in 2018, while spending most of 2019 on injured reserve.

Braden, who has played in three NFL games, is a former Jet, who has also spent time on the Packers practice squad.

New face shield experiment

Players have been trying out a new Oakley face shield, a product specifically aimed at COVID-19 prevention. There is no guideline or protocol for its usage, so players are getting a feel for it.

“Guys have experimented with it, and we’ll see what ultimately their decision is. It’s an individual decision,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “They may change based on experiences … but they’ve run in them and worked out in them and so forth. I think we have some guys that will wear them, we have some guys that won’t, and that may change based on their experiences with them.”

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