FOXBOROUGH — Pass protection will be a primary area of concern when the Patriots open their season against the Steelers on Sunday night.
Pittsburgh has one of the fiercest fronts in the business and has led the NFL in sacks the last two seasons. The Steelers will attack from every formation and every angle.
It’ll take a team effort to provide a clean pocket for Tom Brady, and that means not only are big guys up front expected to hold the line, but the tight ends and backs are going to need lend a hand — or more aptly a shoulder.
Chip blocking is an art form and it’s a way to buy an extra split second or two for quarterbacks to scan the field and find the open man. Former Patriot Kevin Faulk once said the key to becoming a pass protection force is having the courage to throw your body at a bigger defender who has momentum.
“I think that’s the first part of it, you have to be willing to do it,’’ rookie running back Damien Harris said on Thursday. “Obviously after that you have to prepare and you have to be ready for it. You have to make up in your mind that that’s something you have to do and then you go out every single day and work at it. So, I think that’s kind of the two main things that I look at when it comes to being effective at pass protection.’’
Getting to know your opponent and presnap reads also are key elements, according to Harris.
“The more information you can gather before the play starts the better off you’ll be,” he said. “I think studying your opponent, kind of knowing where things are going to come from — whether it’s in the pass game or the run game — knowing where things are going to come, the tendencies of the defense, things like that, it helps you. And, once the play gets started, if you already have those tools and that information, once the ball gets snapped it makes it a little easier.’’
Harris acknowledged he didn’t do a lot of chip blocking at Alabama, but it’s been a regular part of his practice routine since arriving at One Patriot Place, and he knows how much running backs coach Ivan Fears appreciates a well-executed block.
“He loves it,’’ Harris said.
Feeling at home
Watching Michael Bennett during the summer, he looked like a natural fit in the Patriots’ defense. It seems like the 11-year veteran has been a good fit in the locker room, too.
Acquired via trade with the Eagles in March, Bennett acknowledged it’s not always easy transitioning to new surroundings. New England is Bennett’s third franchise in the last three seasons. Philadelphia grabbed him in a trade with Seattle in 2018.
There’s always growing pains as you meet new people and try to settle into a new routine. It takes time, but Bennett said he’s there now.
“It’s good now that I’m here, because I like everybody,’’ the defensive end said. “Tom [Brady] is cool. The whole team is cool, so it’s good.’’
Bennett said he couldn’t be happier with where he landed.
“It’s euphoric to walk in this building every single day and see the standard, the level of play, the expectations every single day at practice,’’ he said. “It’s always good to be here, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to continuously build my career while I’m here.’’
Bennett is pretty pumped about starting his Patriots tenure in prime time, too.
“I’m as excited as I could be,’’ he said. “I think the opportunity to play on Sunday night is always fun, and getting a chance to go out there in front of the fans is going to be even more fun.’’
Center David Andrews and linebacker Elandon Roberts headline a list of seven captains elected for the 2019 season.
It’s the third straight captaincy for Andrews, who will miss the season after being treated for blood clots in his lungs. The recognition by his teammates is another example of just how respected a figure Andrews is on the field and in the locker room.
Roberts is the only first-time captain on the list. The fourth-year linebacker is one of the hardest-hitting defenders on the team and continues a trend of young players earning captain’s honors for their leadership skills.
The other captains include Brady (his 18th selection), Matthew Slater (ninth), Devin McCourty (ninth), Dont’a Hightower (third), and James White (second).
The Patriots again had everyone on hand for practice Thursday afternoon. The team will hold one more workout Friday and then a walkthrough Saturday . . . New England’s injury report remained the same with receiver Demaryius Thomas (hamstring), tight end Matt LaCosse (ankle), and safety Obi Melifonwu (ankle) listed as limited . . . Pittsburgh linebacker Mark Barron (coach’s decision) and safety Sean Davis (ankle) did not practice . . . Speaking of the Steelers, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made a grant through his fund to the Essex County Sheriff’s Department as it expands its K-9 unit from 10 to 13 teams. Roethlisberger’s fund has distributed more than $2.1 million since 2007, with $1.7 million benefitting K-9 programs.