University of Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown has a very simple way to describe his former star defensive end and now Patriots 2019 third-round draft pick Chase Winovich. And while such a description might sometimes carry negative connotations, Browns delivers it with nothing but love, admiration and appreciation.
“Wackjob,” Brown said last week of his former playmaking pupil’s style and personality.
Known for his long blonde hair and high motor, Winovich heads to New England after an impressive final season in Ann Arbor in which he started all 13 games while tallying 69 tackles, including 17 for a loss and five sacks. He earned Associated Press third-team All-American honors last fall, as well as All-Big Ten recognition over each of the last two years.
While the 6-3, 256-pound edge player obviously has plenty of physical skills that help him produce on the field – including impressive Combine workout numbers -- Winovich’s drive and determination clearly fuel every snap he plays.
“Complete wackjob,’ Brown emphasized again before explaining the description. “When he plays, he gets in the zone and he plays the game like a crazed dog, that’s for sure. He’s a little flamboyant off the field, not to the point where it’s distasteful or arrogant. He just has fun playing the game. After every tackle for a loss or sack I’d say, ‘Let’s see what he’s going to do now when he gets up?’ He’s going to be missed, that’s for sure.”
Brown oversaw Winovich’s transition from tight end to defensive end when he arrived at Michigan and even when the young edge player was behind 2017 Cowboys first-round pick Taco Charlton on the depth chart his potential was visible.
“Here’s the thing, from the day I started coaching him it was evident that he’s relentless. He plays the game the right way. Runs to the football like no other guy we had,” Brown recalls. “Excellent pass rusher. He wasn’t an overnight success. We had Taco in front of him. We were using Chase in package stuff, he was more of a stand-up ‘cheetah.’ He just played his tail off in that role. We were giving him time at defensive end to spell Taco, so in ‘17 was kind of his coming out party. The numbers were exciting. He really had an excellent year. It’s all triggered off his motor. The guy plays the game the right way. Last year he became a tactician. Uses his hands. Last year was his biggest improvements in the run game.”
After that breakout 2017 season in which he took over the defensive end job – notching 18 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, two forced fumbles and a pair of fumble recoveries -- Winovich could have made the leap to the NFL. But Brown thinks the youngster made a “really good decision” to return to college and “committed himself as a great Michigan defender.”
Now he’ll have to make the same commitment to becoming a professional and specifically a Patriot. Brown, who sees similarities between Winovich and young Steelers Pro Bowl edge defender T.J. Watt, doesn’t see a problem with the transition to the NFL.
Brown envisions Winovich as more of a stand-up outside linebacker in the New England scheme, which means more playing time in space and dropping into coverage. It’s an area Winovich worked on leading up to the Combine and the Draft, one in which he already has shown great improvement.
“We never asked him to drop in coverage. I think he’s going to be asked to do that,” Brown said of the adjustments Winovich will need to make in the NFL. “He worked his tail off in that. When I saw him in our pro day, he exceeded my expectations of what he could do in that area. The guy is going to rush the passer, now. He’s going to rush the passer. You can always work on using your hands better. You take your toolbox and you try to fill it up. His pass rush will be better. There is still room there to get bigger, stronger, faster. Putting the weight on wasn’t easy, but he kept it on. There is still room there, though, to grow.”
Brown also knows Winovich will fit with the New England community, building on his past history of charity work that his coach doesn’t think he gets enough credit for.
“He’s a guy who really lent himself community wise. All those kinds of things kind of get overlooked, not by me, though,” Brown said. “The one thing that’s nice is he left his mark as an ex-player and did it the right way. He’s extremely well thought of. Those kinds of things go under the radar, I’m not sure why. But he’s a great person.”
That’s only part of the reason why Brown, who spent a big chunk of his coaching career working in New England at Dartmouth, Yale, Plymouth State, Brown, UMass, Northeastern, UConn and Boston College, sees the “wackjob” Winovich as a future favorite of the Foxborough faithful.
“People are going to love the way this guy plays the game,” Brown concluded. “I can see him being a four-team special teams guys. He’ll be a terror now. You won’t worry about mark, set go, he’s gonna go! He plays relentless with a great motor. He’s a never-give-up guy. They’re certainly going to fall in love with his work ethic.”