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Patriots position previews: A glance at defensive end

Jabaal Sheard will be key to the Patriots' success in 2016.

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You wouldn't say the news surrounding the Patriots offense has been great thus far since training camp got underway.

Tom Brady hasn't taken a single preseason snap. The same goes for Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola . . . all of whom can barely get on the practice field these days.

It gets worse, too. Dion Lewis reportedly needs another surgery, and he'll miss a significant part of the regular season.

The offensive line? It's a work in progress. And now it's without Sebastian Vollmer.

For all those reasons, the Patriots on the other side of the ball are that much more important to the team's success. We've discussed a strong Patriots secondary already, but how about the guys coming around the edge and putting heat on the opposing quarterback . . . perhaps forcing an ill-advised throw into the hands of Devin McCourty?

Though the Pats traded away Chandler Jones, the defensive end position looks strong.

Of course, it's also not without its share of bad news. Rob Ninkovich reportedly tore his triceps and will miss games until October. Jabaal Sheard is reportedly banged up, too. But it could still be deep enough to get by while they work to get healthy enough again.


Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long, Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom

The Patriots have five defensive ends on their roster and all five should make the cut. Ninkovich aside, this is a relatively new group for one reason or the other.

Sheard was signed by the Patriots last offseason and it turned out to be one of the best signings in the NFL. That's not to say he wasn't effective in Cleveland - he was - but playing in New England put the spotlight on him a bit more, and he shined. Sheard recorded 8.0 sacks and four forced fumbles, becoming one of the more feared defensive ends in the NFL. According to the Boston Herald, Sheard is dealing with a sprained MCL, which could put the season opener in jeopardy. Heading into a contract year, he could be looking at a big pay day next offseason.

The Patriots hope to have the same success with another defensive end they signed this offseason in Long. Long, a former No. 2 pick in 2008, signed a one-year deal with the Patriots after eight seasons in St. Louis. After recording 13.0 sacks in 2011 and 11.5 sacks in 2012, Long has just four over his last two seasons, both of which were cut short by injury. He has every reason to make this his comeback year.

Flowers and Grissom both enter their second NFL seasons with the Patriots and both could see extended playing time right out of the gates since Ninkovich and Sheard could be on the sidelines to start the season. Flowers has shown that he’s ready to go this season after knee and shoulder injuries essentially ended his rookie season before it began. His strip sack, scoop, and score against the Saints in Week 1’s preseason is one example of that.

As for the reliable Ninkovich, who hasn’t missed a game since 2009 when he missed just one, he continues to rehab his injury.

"It's really hard," he recently told reporters. "I haven't had to deal with anything like this in a long time. I'm trying to work as hard as I can, trying to work, to do the only thing I know how to do -- work hard to get back."

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