Highlighting the Best Upcoming Battle at New England Patriots Training Camp
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For six years, the New England Patriots have searched for the heir to the elephant position behind outside linebacker Willie McGinest.
And at the Patriots' training camp in 2012, there will be a battle between several talented players to determine who will finally assume that spot.
Last year, the Patriots struck free-agency gold with the additions of Mark Anderson and Andre Carter, but they lost Anderson to the Buffalo Bills in free agency this year, and Carter remains unsigned and recovering from a severe leg injury that ended his 2011 season.
This year, they have added three prominent names to the mix—former Raiders defensive end Trevor Scott in free agency as well as defensive ends Chandler Jones and Jake Bequette in first and third rounds of the draft, respectively.
The most important question to ask during this battle will be: What exactly will the role be for these three players? Greg Bedard of The Boston Globe explains what the elephant's job is:
An elephant is an end/outside linebacker hybrid. It’s a very demanding position in this defense and has yet to be played well by a young player: Rosevelt Colvin and Adalius Thomas filled the role at times and had to be acquired from another team to do it.
An elephant has to be able to take on tackles, tight ends and fullbacks in the running game. So the player must be strong to hold the point of attack. He also has to be smart enough to read the motions of the offense and understand what different formations mean. The player has to be agile enough to drop into coverage, but also quick enough to get after the quarterback.
All three—Scott, Jones and Bequette—are considered scheme-flexible defensive ends/outside linebackers, although Jones and Bequette were both primarily used as rush ends in college and most acknowledge Jones as a work in progress.
That doesn't stop Bedard from drawing the comparison to (who else?) McGinest:
Jones is the prototype for the "elephant" position that was made famous in these parts by Willie McGinest. The position made a comeback last season when Andre Carter and then Mark Anderson filled the role.
McGinest was 6'5" and 270 pounds. Jones is, guess what, 6'5.5", 266, has long arms at 35.5" and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.82.
Either way, there is a clear need for pass-rush potency off the edge. Anderson and Carter accounted for half of New England's sack total (20 of a possible 40, with each logging 10) as 4-3 defensive ends, so the ability to rush the passer will be important. Jones may be able to provide that as early as Week 1.
Who will earn the most playing time at elephant in 2012?
There are, however, more than a few wild cards in the group—defensive ends Jermaine Cunningham, Aaron Lavarias and Alex Silvestro. Cunningham was a second-round pick in 2010 and has logged just one career sack. There is plenty of reason to put him on bubble watch, especially since both Lavarias and Silvestro have special teams value, as well.
Linebacker Rob Ninkovich is more of a strong-side linebacker than an elephant, but he has been known to put his hand in the dirt on occasion. It should be noted, though, that when it came time to replace Carter in the elephant role in 2011, it was Anderson who was given the responsibility.
Whether the Patriots are running a 3-4, a 4-3 or a mix of the two, they will need players who can provide pass rush off the edge, but the elephant asks much more than that. Whoever proves themselves the most versatile will be the one(s) earning the most playing time for 2012.
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