Patriots DL Lewis adjusting to new defense

When the Carolina Panthers released Damione Lewis to cut salary,

he was happy to join the New England Patriots even though he’d have

to switch to a new defensive alignment.

At least he’s not alone.

The Patriots added another defensive lineman who had played in a

4-3 setup before being let go by the Oakland Raiders, Gerard

Warren. He was released on March 11, a week after Lewis.

Now, more than a week into training camp, both players drafted

in 2001 are making progress learning the 3-4 as the Patriots try to

upgrade a defensive line that lost Richard Seymour in a trade to

Oakland before last season and Jarvis Green as a free agent. He

signed with Denver after last season.

The 3-4 is ”a totally different ballgame” than what he’s used

to, Lewis said Friday, but he’s not intimidated by the

adjustment.

”I’m a football player so I’m going to go out and do what they

ask me to do,” he said. ”If it’s a change of system, if it’s me

going from one team to another, whatever it is. I love the game and

I have a true passion for the game and any opportunity that I have

to play, I’m going to come out and play.”

The 2001 draft was a strong one for defensive linemen. Warren

was taken third by the Cleveland Browns, Seymour went sixth to the

Patriots and Lewis was picked 12th by the St. Louis Rams. Seymour

has had the most successful career, but the other two bring veteran

savvy to a young defense.

”I’ve known Gerard for a long time and he’s been a good friend

of mine for years,” Lewis said. ”So it helps sitting there

talking to him, just gathering what he’s thinking and what I’m

thinking and we’re just trying to help each other grow.”

Playing in a complex new system can be a difficult learning

process. In the 4-3, the primary job of the defensive lineman is to

penetrate into the backfield. In the 3-4, the focus is more on

trying to play off blocks rather than making an all-out charge.

”Our defense is just structured a little differently, but I

think they have adapted very well,” coach Bill Belichick said.

They’re ”both smart guys, very professional, work hard, both in

good condition. They’ve taken a lot of snaps out there. They’ve,

overall, I’d say performed very well both in the running game, the

passing game, (and) the communication.”

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork is the key to that communication.

The Patriots first-round pick in 2004 out of Miami, the same

school Lewis attended, Wilfork should be around for a while. He

agreed to a five-year contract in March.

”He’s done a good job of keeping us in tune with what’s going

on,” Lewis said. ”A lot of stuff is coming from studying and just

trying to make sure that I know what’s going on by seeing the

formations. It’s been a process. It’s a little different on the

4-3, but I think it’s going well.”

The Patriots defensive line had big problems in its 33-14 loss

to the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the playoffs. On the

first play from scrimmage, Ray Rice raced up the middle for an

83-yard touchdown run.

Whether they back up Wilfork, or play end, Lewis and Warren are

being counted on to stop plays like that.

”They’ve been around this game,” Wilfork said. ”They know

exactly what they need to do. Now they’re in a different scheme,

but their professionalism is outstanding.”

Lewis started all 31 games he played the past two seasons but

only 65 of the 131 during his career. After getting 11 1/2 sacks in

his first three seasons with Carolina, he managed just a half a

sack last year.

Warren’s numbers have been much better – 32 sacks in 135 games,

127 of them starts.

Now they’re working with Wilfork and end Ty Warren, two other

first-round picks with solid careers who should ease the adjustment

of the veteran newcomers.

”They can certainly handle themselves without any help,”

Belichick said, ”but then when you put it all together, I think

that the chemistry and those guys playing and working off each

other has been good and I think will continue to improve. I like

both of those players. I think they’ve done a good job for

us.”