The Patriots went through two repetitions in competitive one-on-one drills when it became Christian Barmore's turn to work on his pass-rush skills.
"I picked him up off his feet, but that's my guy. That's a move that I want to learn is how to pick people up more," Barmore joked with reporters after practice. "I had a rip. Then I carried it with me. He had had me, but then I just countered. I was really working on my counter hump."
As a Philadelphia native, the 24-year-old may not have witnessed NFL Hall of Famer Reggie White's legendary career with the Eagles firsthand. However, that didn't stop Barmore from idolizing White growing up, especially as a fellow defensive lineman. White, regarded as one of the NFL's all-time best players, popularized the hump move as his go-to pass-rush technique.
"That's the legend, man," Barmore said of White. "I wanted to play football because of him. I never saw him play, but I used to watch his football life. I've seen his highlights and fell in love with his game. I fell in love with his style, his game, especially what he did for Philadelphia."
In an outstanding rookie campaign as a second-round draft selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, Barmore registered 48 quarterback pressures in his first season. The Alabama product broke out in the second half of the 2021 season, where his 82.6 pass-rush grade via Pro Football Focus ranked fifth-best among all defensive tackles in the last eight weeks.
The third-year pro's excellent second half to his rookie campaign had many pundits expecting a year-two breakout. Unfortunately, Barmore sustained a knee injury that held him out of seven games and limited his effectiveness in several others. But the arrow began pointing upward again when he tallied a sack and 11 quarterback pressures in the final two games in 2022.
Now fully healthy and back to tossing NFL offensive linemen to the turf, Barmore is looking to put all the pieces together to realize his immense potential in his third season, mainly focusing on rounding out his game as a run defender to become a three-down game-wrecker for the Patriots.
Along with his standout rep in one-on-ones, Barmore also registered a "sack" during team drills and batted down a Bailey Zappe pass at the line of scrimmage in a dominant showing.
"Camp is all about being consistent. Coming in with the same mentality every day, dominate. Be the best player you can be," Barmore said. "My goal is, pass rushing, you have to earn it. You have to earn it from the run, so I focus more on the run than the pass."
Barmore's ability to press blocks as a two-gapping defensive end has sometimes stood out. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick's system mostly asks defensive linemen to hold the point of attack and fill gaps rather than shoot upfield to stop running backs in the backfield. Barmore's first-step explosiveness and power to penetrate the line of scrimmage are his standout traits, so harnessing that into building a wall against the run has been a bit of a transition for him in New England's defensive system.
In past seasons, Barmore's upfield style has relegated him to being a situational player in pass-rush situations only, with 68 percent of his snaps coming in passing situations. Although you can understand that New England has stouter scheme fits that play early-down roles as run stoppers, Barmore has elite talent that, if fully realized, could elevate the entire defensive front.
After another lengthy fully-padded practice for the Patriots, here are four more takeaways from in the trenches following Monday's session at Gillette Stadium:
1. OT Trent Brown Says Limited Practice Participation Due to Injury, Not Contract Related
For those checking in daily on Patriots training camp, the absences along the offensive line have been very noteworthy, with the top O-Line down several projected starters this summer.
Along with right guard Mike Onwenu's remaining on the physically unable-to-perform list, left tackle Trent Brown and left guard Cole Strange have sat out several practices. Team captain David Andrews missed one session in what appeared to be veteran rest, returning on Monday, while newcomer Calvin Anderson remains on the non-football injury list.
The absences have forced projected backups and first-year players into major roles with other frontliners. At times, that has led to uneven stretches in 11-on-11s, where it's been difficult for the quarterbacks to consistently run the offense due to the pressure from the defense.
Following Monday's rainy practice, Brown confirmed to reporters that his limited participation is due to an undisclosed injury. Some have speculated that Brown, who has yet to participate in competitive team drills, was unhappy with his contract. However, the hulking offensive tackle laughed at the notion that he's "holding in" due to his contract status.
"I'm getting better. Doing everything I can to get back out there with my team," Brown said. "Definitely frustrating. From a personal standpoint, that's all I can speak on. But, like I said, I'm doing everything I can to get back on the field. I wish I could be out there every day. I wish I didn't miss a day."
Brown would later reiterate that he expects to be ready for the regular-season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, September 10. In the meantime, as he rehabs his injury, Brown is doing everything he can behind the scenes to prepare for his ninth NFL season.
"Even though I'm not practicing, I'm still doing everything I can outside of here to try to prepare for that. But, again, nothing like full-speed reps," Brown added. "I'm listening to the training staff and doing everything that's asked of me, so I can get back out here and get healthy."
Although it would be nice to see Brown on the field, offensive line coach Adrian Klemm credited the veteran tackle for being mentally locked in and mentoring younger players.
"He's been with us the entire time here in these meetings and all those things, so he's been very good in that way in terms of taking Sidy [Sow] and some of the younger guys under his wing. He's working to get better every single day, and he's been really engaged with everything we've been doing. I'm encouraged by that, and I'm excited to see him when he gets back out on the field," Klemm said in his media availability last Friday.
Entering training camp, the concern level for the Patriots projected offensive line was high in certain spots. Mainly, at the tackle spots, where the Pats need a bounce-back year from Brown and have uncertain options at right tackle. Now, injuries have derailed building continuity up front, which is critical to the success of the five-man unit.
On paper, the Patriots have far better talent along the offensive line than they've been able to field in the last few practices, which, again, have been shaky. Although you can find solace in that upgraded reinforcements are likely on the way, New England has yet to practice with their projected starting five along the offensive line now 11 practices into training camp. Eventually, you need to see it, to believe it.
2. Conor McDermott, Riley Reiff Stand Out in 1-on-1 Drills as Right Tackle Battle Continues
Once the three injured Patriots return to the practice field, the Patriots will have four spots along the offensive line, likely filled by Brown, Strange, Andrews, and Onwenu, leaving one open spot.
After switching back over to left tackle last season, the expectation is that Brown will remain on the left side, meaning that the vacancy in the starting lineup is at right tackle. Currently, the position battle is between veterans Riley Reiff and Conor McDermott. Although the clock is ticking, it's also possible that Calvin Anderson could enter the competition when/if he returns.
Team drills haven't been as crisp with revolving doors at other spots, but Reiff, who has primarily repped at left tackle in Brown's absence, and McDermott showed well in their four combined repetitions during one-on-one drills in Monday's sessions.
Starting with McDermott, the current right tackle won his reps against Josh Uche and rookie Keion White. Uche tried to use a speed rush on McDermott to turn the corner, but the right tackle matched Uche's foot speed, a good sign since that's been his weak point.
As for Reiff, the 14-year veteran won reps against Deatrich Wise and Anfernee Jennings. The fact that the two favorites for the right tackle job won reps against players currently projected to make the initial 53-man roster is a positive step forward. Still, offensive line play is a team game, and it's hard to get too excited when full-team drills remain uneven.
3. Deatrich Wise and Josh Uche Team Up for "Sack" in Final Competitive 11-on-11s
The Patriots defensive front got the last laughed when quarterback Mac Jones's final competitive rep was a sack. It appeared from this vantage point that Uche came around the edge to close in on Jones, but Deatrich Wise was also nearby as the whistle blew.
Wise registered two practice "sacks" to lead the Patriots defense. Other notable pressures that could've resulted in sacks were tallied by Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, and Barmore.
4, Patriots Could Feature Some Two-Back Formations This Season
Lastly, although they've primarily practiced without a fullback in the backfield, the Patriots might be adding two-back formations with a lead-blocker back into their offensive repertoire. One candidate to line up at fullback is tight end Anthony Firsker, who primarily played fullback in his collegiate days at Harvard, while he also took some snaps as an off-the-line H-Back type with the Titans. We'll need to wait and see if it sticks, but after having tremendous success with fullbacks in the past, it could be something the Patriots keep in their back pocket offensively.