On just his second full day in Foxborough, outside linebacker Akeem Ayers took a five-minute break from studying his Patriots playbook to answer a few media questions.
Ayers, acquired late Tuesday in a trade with Tennessee, said he wasn't expecting the sudden move, but is welcoming it with open arms. The 25-year-old was a Titans second-round pick in 2011 and started all but five games for them in his first three years, picking up nine sacks along the way. This season, however, he's only appeared in two games after undergoing surgical procedures on both knees during the offseason. He also reportedly fell out of favor with the new Titans coaching staff, which he tacitly acknowledged in his first comments as a Patriot.
"I'm just happy to be here," Ayers declared. "Obviously, I wasn't planning it. I just happened to be in a good situation here. All in all, I'm happy to be in a better position where I can get an opportunity to play possibly and just move on from things from there."
The hardest adjustment so far, he conceded, has been the mental aspect of trying to absorb as much new material as possible in a short time.
"Just moving mid-season, learning an entirely new defensive scheme, trying to catch up," he continued. "The guys are already up to speed and I'm a new guy coming in, I have a ton to learn. Sometimes it takes months to learn a full playbook. Just focusing on learning the playbook every day and trying to get to know guys in the locker room. The coaches are helping out a lot, trying to keep things simple. I'm trying to learn as much as I can to play as fast as I can on the field."
Physically, Ayers insists he's at full strength and eager to contribute, though he wouldn't predict if he'd be ready in time, from a mental standpoint, for the Bears game this Sunday.
"I worked hard all offseason to get back healthy. It paid off. I'm feeling great. Not limited. Happy where I'm at.
"I think this scheme fits what I do well," he asserted, "but at the same time, I'm trying to learn. Only been here a few days. I believe I have a lot of versatility. I'm able to drop into coverage, rush [the passer]. I think that can help me out. I'm enjoying every moment of it, taking it one day at a time."
"Hopefully he'll be a good fit for us," defensive tackle/co-captain Vince Wilfork remarked. "That's an area where the scouting department, Bill and them, see somebody that they think can help us and they bring him in. I'm pretty confident that if he can help us, he'll play. That's how it is around here. If you can't, we have no room for you. I'm excited to have him, glad to have him as a teammate, and hopefully he can come help us."
Ayers' arrival may or may not have been accelerated by the absence of Chandler Jones, New England's top defensive end and pass rusher who has been nursing a hip injury and is reportedly out for about a month.
"I don't know if we'll have Chandler or not. When the time comes, we'll figure it out," Wilfork maintained. "I'm confident in everybody we put on the field, because the way we practice around here, we don't change any type of defense because we lack a person. I don't care who that person is. It's just the next man up has to step in and do his job and do it to the fullest, because we're all taught the same way."
No fun against the run
Wilfork expressed displeasure with the way his team has fared against opposing running backs so far this season. The Patriots are coming off a game against the New York Jets in which they allowed Gang Green to rush for nearly 220 yards, and they're facing Chicago's Matt Forte this weekend – one of the most versatile backs in the NFL.
"I'm pretty sure [the Bears are] looking at our season and saying, 'We can run the ball on these guys,'" lamented Wilfork. "We have to be able to stop the run, and until we do it on a consistent basis, opponents are going to continue to do it. We have another challenge this week against a good back, a good football team."
Knowing that other teams are eager to run on the Patriots is something Wilfork admits he takes personally.
"Yeah, absolutely. All the years I've been here, that's one of the main things we've been fairly successful. I want us to get back to being the New England Patriots up front being able to handle the run game. And every week, it's going to get tougher. You can't talk about it all the time, you have to just do it and prove it on the field."
New England apparently took a step toward helping its rush defense by signing massive defensive tackle Alan Branch, recently released by Buffalo. Branch was not at practice Thursday, but was in the locker room afterward. He politely declined reporters' questions, however, as his transaction has yet to be made official. In order for Branch to be on the Patriots 53-man roster, a corresponding move must be made to release another player or move someone to a list like injured reserve.
Jones once again was the only player not on the field during practice. Because of a windy, rainy nor'easter, the Patriots were forced to move Thursday's practice to their indoor facility behind Gillette Stadium.