Kony Ealy's first three NFL seasons as a second-round pick with the Panthers were statistically rather consistent if unremarkable.
The former Missouri star played in 15 games as a rookie and then all 16 contests – with 15 combined starts – over the last two seasons. He notched four sacks as a rookie in 2014 and then five in each of the last two years.
But heading into his first season with his new team in New England and the final year of his rookie contract, the 6-4, 275-pound defensive line sounds like a guy looking forward to a breakout fall in Foxborough.
"I think each year should be your best year," Ealy said Tuesday in a meeting with reporters in the media workroom at Gillette Stadium. "You never should be complacent with the year you had previously. You should always want to get better and that's what I plan on doing individually and with the team. I'm pretty sure everybody around here has the same attitude as far as that."
He doubled down on that idea when asked about his potential role with his new team.
"Man, I just want to dominate whatever position I'm in, you know? I think if you take that mind approach good things will happen for you," Ealy said.
Even Ealy's former head coach, Panthers boss Ron Rivera, has alluded to the fact that he also believes the pass rusher's best days remain ahead of him.
"I think that about anybody that's in the league," Ealy said. "Like I just said you can't be on the same page as you were last year or two weeks ago. There's always room to improve and respects to Coach Rivera and I appreciate his comments but I have a feeling he's right about that and along with everybody in the league. There's always room to grow."
In New England, Ealy joins a new-look defensive end depth chart. Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard moved on in free agency. Rob Ninkovich remains the veteran presence, though his production has fallen in recent years. Trey Flowers is coming off a breakout second half of 2016, including a huge Super Bowl performance, something Ealy himself produced in Super Bowl 50 when he had three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble in a loss to the Broncos.
But that performance is not a talking point at this point.
"That Super Bowl game is over, man. I really don't like to talk about the past. My job is to come in here buy into the system and make the most of my opportunity here. Period. And let everything lie where they may. Just don't worry about the future right now. Just worry about the present," Ealy said as he tries to carve out a role for himself in his new job.
"The competition is going to be at an all-time high at all times and I think that's good because it motivates guys to do better – not just to try to beat each other out but to kind of work together and just kind of push forward going forward," Ealy added of the DE group. "I think if you take that approach to the process everything will come out the way you want it."
Pushing forward is exactly what Ealy is doing these days in the Patriots offseason program that will soon transition to OTAs and move down the road toward a season filled with high expectations for both the defensive end and his new team.
Ealy declared that he couldn't really say whether he was surprised or angry at being traded from Carolina this spring, but feels "blessed" to have the "opportunity to better yourself in a fresh start."
"I think just being able to be in this process right now, having a job and being able to do something that I love to do and be able to provide for my family, it's something that I think is really important and motivates me," Ealy said. "Just looking forward to the future. Period."
Forward to what he hopes is the best season of his young NFL career.