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Bedard: Above all else, Patriots want control on edge of defense

When it comes to edge players, the Patriots are most concerned with whether or not you can set the edge. Everything else, including rushing the passer, is secondary in the Patriots’ scheme.

(Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

If you’ve been keeping track of Bill Belichick‘s various travels on the pro day circuit to check out draft prospects, you’ve noticed he has personally instructed edge prospects in one particular drill.

Belichick first did this at N.C. State with top-five prospect Bradley Chubb. On Wednesday, Belichick — with the aid of former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia — did the same drill at Georgia, with a close eye on outside linebacker/end Lorenzo Carter.

What are they trying to gauge with this drill? What does it say about the Patriots’ philosophy on edge players?

Let’s get into it.

First of all, this wasn’t the only drill the linebackers were put through — they did assorted speed/flexibility drills, which Belichick also watched closely.

But every team does those drills. They love to speed and flash because they want to know, first and foremost, if the player can hunt down quarterbacks.

Not the Patriots. They bring out a unique, old-school drill with two bags. They want to gauge how a player reacts to controlling a gap. In this case, as Belichick says, the player has the “C” gap. Where’s that? Between the tackle and tight end.

So the two bags represent the tackle and tight end. The different movements illustrated how those two players might come off the ball, either to seal off the edge, block down, play head-up, or some combination along those lines. It’s a run defense drill.

This another way it’s done, usually in team practice:

When it comes to edge players, the Patriots are most concerned with whether or not you can set the edge. Everything else, including rushing the passer, is secondary.

It’s the reason why, among others, Cassius Marsh was released after the team traded for him (but was signed to an extension by the 49ers), and replaced by Eric Lee off the Bills’ practice squad. It’s why Deatrich Wise saw his playing time go from a season-high 18 snaps against the run and 88.1 percent overall against the Bills in Week 13, to 16 total snaps against the run and less than 50 percent playing time in the final seven games of the season — even though he was the team’s second-best pass rusher.

This goes to what I wrote about earlier in the offseason: You can have your dreams. You can have your draft binkies. But 95 percent of the time, Belichick will not go get a dominating pass rusher because he has a tried and tested system that works with phenomenal efficiency.

Here’s what you need to understand. Other schemes and teams want players to go up the field off the edge. That has never been a priority for Belichick. He wants to control the edge. The way he looks at it, if you control the middle (two inside tackles) and the two edges, it’s a triangulation of power that is the foundation of his defensive scheme. If you don’t control those three points, then the manpower needed to overcome those deficiencies has a disastrous trickle-down effect (defensive backs have to play run and pass, offensive linemen get out on linebackers, etc). Controlling the edge is the name of the game for Belichick, and that’s why some players like Chris Long weren’t great fits in New England.

If there’s a disconnect I hear most when it comes to Patriots fans and Belichick’s scheme, it’s in this area. Fans want a dominating pass rush. They don’t want bend-but-don’t-break. They want pressure and three-and-outs.

And it’s fair to disagree. The argument is there to be made that in this pass-happy age, New England should readjust and focus on affecting the quarterback first. It’s great to be better against the run — and we illustrated why that was such a problem last year and how the team moved swiftly to clean that up — but when the games are decided in the fourth quarter, it usually comes down to whether or not the opposing quarterback can execute against you.

I get that argument. But Belichick’s scheme is tested and true for years. I’d make the counterargument the Patriots’ failings in the Super Bowl were more about personnel (Marsh and Kony Ealy failed additions, and injuries) than they were scheme and Belichick’s system. Seems like he does as well.

I’d be interested in hearing what you think about the Patriots’ edge philosophy. Are you on board but with better personnel? Do you want Belichick to be more open to evolving like they do on offense? Leave your thoughts in the comments or email me at greg@bostonsportsjournal.com and I’ll run the best responses this weekend.

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