Bill Belichick often says a player's biggest improvement comes in their second year. With a season of NFL football under their belts, players are often more comfortable and allow their abilities to take over. With that in mind we thought it would make sense to check in on several players entering Year 2 (and some others who have seen little playing time) to see how they're progressing in this strange offseason.
Second-year defensive end/outside linebacker Chase Winovich will have a big opportunity to emerge as an every-down contributor for the Patriots defense in 2020. The 2019 third-round pick is coming off a solid rookie season that saw him carve out a situational role on defense, while being a core member of multiple special teams units.
Perhaps most importantly, Winovich didn't miss a game, avoiding the injury bug that can often derail rookie seasons or at least impede their development.
"It was challenging is the best way I can put it, just in a different way," Winovich reflected on his first season. "Just the competition's really high and there's the amount of information and just the learning curve that comes with the transition is inevitable. And I'm just fortunate that I had a great cast of teammates and coaches just surrounding me and constantly providing insight and guidance so they could help to make it as smooth as possible.
"I tried to compartmentalize each thing of my life and just break it down. When I got to the Patriots, I realized, especially going through training camp, I didn't feel like it was quite enough. So I kind of went on a quest to ready myself and improve."
After being drafted and assimilating into the team during OTAs and minicamp, Winovich started to find his stride during last summer's preseason.
"I felt like going through training camp and preseason games, especially with Detroit and Tennessee, I was kind of able to display some of the versatility and show some of the growth and some of the hard work that I put in, in terms of grasping everything physically and mentally," Winovich said. "And so going through the season, it was just a matter of building off of that and really just trying to work on little things and be more consistent."
Winovich made an immediate impact once the regular season started. He tallied four sacks in his first five games and then grabbed the first touchdown of his career in his sixth as he caught a blocked punt and took it into the end zone against the New York Giants.
On the season, Winovich played about a third of the defensive snaps, mainly as a sub pass rusher, and two-thirds of the special teams snaps while tying for fourth on the team with seven special teams tackles.
His first season was a learning process, with consistency being the elusive goal. Now, with free agency departures at his position, Winovich has the opportunity to expand his role even further.
"What separates the best players from good players in the NFL, from what I've seen so far, is not the ability to make good plays because everybody can make some solid plays. It's just being able to consistently do that," observed Winovich. "Time and time again on different opponents."
At the conclusion of his rookie season, Winovich immediately began the process of self-evaluation to see how he could elevate his game and find that consistency.
"After the season was over I kind of jumped right into the film in terms of just watching all of my plays from last year," Winovich said. "And just try to understand, if it was a bad play, why was it a bad play? If it was a good play, just trying to get a better understanding of my weaknesses and my strengths. And then the second phase of that was this offseason kind of really targeting those and trying to build off of that."
Building off of that includes a multi-pronged approach this offseason with no stone left unturned as Winovich tries to build off of the foundation he established as a rookie.
"Like my emotional well-being, my attention, my note taking ability," explained Winovich as he listed off the areas he's working on. "And then from a physical standpoint, especially in this offseason, I've tried to incorporate things like mobility.
"And from a team perspective, just being more consistent with making sure that I got my assignments, I executed each play and take care of my responsibilities to the best of my abilities."
Another part of his offseason regime has included early-morning yoga workouts as Winovich has tried to get as detailed as possible.
"To improve, you've got to improve across the board," Winovich said. "And that's just a matter of making maybe one or two percent better in my mobility, one or two percent better in my diet and how I eat and simplifying all of that stuff. And yoga has a lot of practice, a lot of usefulness from a mindfulness standpoint, from a flexibility standpoint."
The opportunity to get to the next level is certainly there, but making the second-year jump during an offseason ravaged by the pandemic has provided a unique challenge. Like all the Patriots players and coaches, Winovich was trying to make the best of it despite not being able to have the full team together for offseason team activities.
"You always want to be with the boys, being able to chat it up, especially after working out and stuff, but it's just the times," Winovich said, "and one thing I've learned over this past year, too, you just got to control what you can control and you've got to trust the process. And Coach Belichick and the rest of the staff have done a great job of orchestrating these meetings and making sure that we're making something out of nothing."
With much uncertainty as to how and when the season will commence and what it will look like, Winovich has maintained the short-term focus that has been a hallmark of the Patriots for two decades.
"I'm just taking things one day at a time," Winovich said. "That's what I've really tried to focus on. Just constantly reevaluating where I'm at each week and recognizing these are the steps that I'm going to have to take this offseason and this week and today, if I want to eventually just keep getting better because you're always trying to do that as a competitor, I believe."