FOXBOROUGH — Football is a complex game, and Patriots training camp can often appear frenetic. Balls fly around as different positional groups hone technique. Coaches do their best to shout instructions over Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” or whatever may be blaring from the loudspeakers behind Gillette Stadium’s practice fields.
Entering his second NFL season, Patriots defensive end Deatrich Wise now has professional experience to draw upon during these sultry summer days. In his view, everything boils down to two simple but draining components: mental reps and physical reps.
“Everything I do is mental reps or physical reps,” Wise said. “When I’m not in, I need to learn from the people that are in front of me or learn from the coaches’ tips.”
By compartmentalizing those two things, Wise is beginning to realize some of his vast potential as a disruptor among New England’s defensive ranks.
His ears always peeled, Wise has learned the value of causing chaos as a pass rusher. Many might think that edge rushers fixate on sacks and sacks alone. Bill Belichick dispels this idea to his players, impressing upon them the numerous positive outcomes that can arise from a successful trip into the opposing quarterback’s playpen.
“If it’s sacks, [pass breakups], closing the pocket, containing him, putting your hand in his face, anything to disrupt the quarterback’s communication, anything to get him off his rhythm, that’s being disruptive,” Wise said. “Being disruptive; that’s what our coaches preach.”
Through five days of training camp, Wise has constantly placed himself in spaces ripe for disruption. On Saturday, he laid running back Jeremy Hill flat with a monster hit, hoping it would get his teammates’ juices flowing and set a tone for camp. On Sunday, he made one of four tackles during goal-line drills, the defense holding on every snap.
While plays such as these highlight Wise’s physicality — at 6 feet 5 inches and 275 pounds, he’s unafraid of mixing it up with behemoths such as offensive tackle Trent Brown — it’s his mental fortitude that separates him from the pack.
In the eyes of many onlookers, Sunday’s most impressive play during 11-on-11s involved running back Sony Michel going right, then slicing upfield and down the sideline for a score of nearly 50 yards. But the Patriots coaches were impressed with Wise, who had lined up on the opposite side of the field yet chased Michel the distance, almost cutting him off before he scored.
Wise’s work ethic is inherited from his father, whose advice he heeds today.
“My dad always told me to be the first one on the field and the last one off the field,” said Wise, who was still doing drills 45 minutes after Sunday’s practice and indeed was the last one to mosey off.
“I try to do that. It’s not intentional. I just like to work on my moves after practice and try to get better [at] the stuff I mess up on.”
Wise’s development comes at a crucial time for New England. Though recording sacks was rarely an issue in 2017, slowing the run often was. Per Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards metric, the Patriots hemorrhaged yards when opponents ran to the right side last season.
Reinforcements came aboard in the offseason, New England acquiring run-stuffing defensive tackle Danny Shelton from Cleveland in a March trade and signing former Atlanta defensive end Adrian Clayborn. Derek Rivers, whom the Patriots drafted in the third round in 2017 but who tore an ACL during camp, adds another disruptive element to the fresh-faced front.
Rivers, who is best known for setting the career sack record at Youngstown State with 41, has learned how important versatility is to the Patriots brass.
“You have to play the run to play here,” he said. “You have to be able to defend the run, and just to be able to work on my craft and all aspects of my game to become a more all-around player.”
Rivers, Shelton, and Wise are all 24 years old. Though they’re at distinctly different stages in their careers, they have enjoyed watching film of their peers, soaking up whatever they can to help round out more complete defensive arsenals.
“Deatrich has been awesome, man,” said Shelton. “Watching film of him from last year, he’s an awesome pass rusher and he’s powerful in the run as well. I’m excited to work with him.”
Wise understands how pivotal learning is on the path to winning. Currently, hand placement and pad levels are two main areas he’s focused on. If Wise’s precocious talent continues to develop at the rate he has flaunted in late July, perhaps New England won’t be forced to choose between notching sacks and clogging the run come September.
“I’m still trying to be a student of the game,” Wise said. “It’s only my second year and I’m still learning, still have room to improve. While I’m learning, I’ll also tell the guys who came in behind me, the rookies now, little smaller things that helped me out, just like the vets did me.”
Owen Pence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.