The first season for this former second-rounder was extremely promising as an early-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
After trading up to begin day two, the Patriots selected Christian Barmore with the 38th overall selection. As a rookie, Barmore was well on his way to becoming an impact player, leading all first-year interior rushers with 48 quarterback pressures in year one. However, the year-two leap didn't come for the former Alabama star because of a knee injury that derailed his second season. Barmore missed seven games, eventually landing on injured reserve before returning for the end of the 2022 campaign. In his last two games, Barmore tallied 11 quarterback pressures and two stops, so the arrow began pointing upward again for a promising talent.
Over the last three weeks, we are seeing the player many hoped would be a building block for the Patriots defense. Barmore has had flashes of dominance as a three-down defender, adding excellent run defense to plays in the pass rush. The Pats defensive tackle leads all DTs with 12 stops in that span, with sacks in back-to-back games.
Barmore's improvements as a run defender make this hot streak so exciting. In the past, he had some growing pains with playing the Patriots two-gapping defensive system at the point of attack. This season, Barmore has improved his technique to be more stout in the trenches while using his lateral quickness to penetrate gaps against zone schemes.
Although there are opportunities to get vertical up the field, New England's base front mechanics have interior defensive linemen play two gaps versus the run. This means they'll build a wall across the line of scrimmage by holding their ground while reading the ball carrier through the blockers. Once the running back commits to run through a gap, the defender is expected to work into that gap to clog the rushing lane. A two-gapping technique takes discipline, anticipation based on block recognition, and, obviously, playing strength.
In head coach Bill Belichick's defense, players are often put into roles that favor their skillset, so bigger run-stuffers like Lawrence Guy will play on early downs to stop the run. On the other hand, pass-rushing specialists like linebacker Josh Uche will come on the field to pressure quarterbacks. In rare instances, hopefully, in Barmore's future, a player is good enough in both areas that the Patriots will keep him on the field for all three downs. Those are the valuable chess pieces worth building around as pillars of your defense.
Speaking to Patriots.com this week, Barmore opened up about his injury last season and how he's rounding out his game to increase his snap rate to a career-high 59.4% this season.
"It was really hard. Last year, that was not me because I never got hurt before. My mission is to work my behind off to have that not happen again," Barmore said. "That's why I train every day hard, consistently, because I never want to go through that again."
Barmore's work ethic this offseason to get himself in peak physical condition stood out to his head coach, with Belichick praising the third-year pro during this stretch of games.
"B-More's had a really good year. He's been healthy. He had a good offseason. I'd say this is the hardest he's trained or was able to train. Some of that's been a little bit rehab-related. He's had a good offseason, good training, and he's playing well," Belichick told reporters.
The other areas that Barmore credits for his improvements against the run are a bigger emphasis on film study and figuring out ways to play to his strengths within the framework of the defense.
"We can't chase plays here. We have to play our technique. When it's time, that's when it comes to you. Everybody has to do their job," Barmore said. "Coach will always tell me, when you get a chance, win your one-on-one matchups. Everybody has to focus on the call."
Barmore added that another area of growth for him has been spending multiple hours a week watching film, both of himself from the past game and of the next opponent.
"I'll be watching film for a minute. Even through the good or bad, I'll be watching it. It was simple things like my feet, my hands, my get-off, my stance. I'll be watching all kinds of stuff to try to maintain my game."
"That's how I can make the game easier for me. Everybody has different types [of playing styles], but I feel like I'm using my size really well. Use my reach, use my get-off. We have really good coaches who teach me a lot, too. I use them as tools. I'm really focused on my craft. Just trying to be a good player for the team," Barmore said.
Along with watching his film to dissect the pluses and minuses, Barmore also spends time during the week studying the opposing offensive linemen he'll face on Sundays.
"A lot of guys like to jump set. Other guys like to back up. A lot of guys really like to jump set, so that's what I'm really looking at because a lot of guys like to jump set to get the fight over easily."
For example, Barmore's first-quarter sack of Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was a crucial play early in last week's game. With the sack coming on second down, the six-yard loss put Miami in a third-and-15, and on the ensuing play, safety Kyle Dugger intercepted a pass and returned it to the Miami 30-yard line. Three plays later, the Pats would take a 7-0 lead.
"[Dolphins right guard] Robert Hunt is a good player. He's a strong guy, so if you go down the middle, that's what he wants. He wants you to come fight him because he knows the ball is coming out [quickly]. So I saw him reach his hand, I grabbed it, slipped past, rip [move], and got there," Barmore said, breaking down his first-quarter sack.
The Patriots are at a tipping point with many of their most important players. New England needs to decide on the fifth-year option for quarterback Mac Jones next spring, while the remaining members from the 2020 NFL Draft class are pending free agents (Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Mike Onwenu), making the next nine games crucial for evaluating the roster.
As a former second-round pick, Barmore is signed through the 2024 season. If he continues to play at a high level, the discussion will become about signing him to a contract extension as a building block for the future with the Patriots in uncertain times.
Although the big-picture narratives are around the team's 2-6 record, New England might have a keeper on their defensive line.