Patriots defense faces challenge without Chandler Jones
FOXBOROUGH, MASS. >> Defensive end Rob Ninkovich said the New England Patriots defense has a long way to go to get ready for Sept. 11 opener at Arizona.
"It's early in camp. We still have a lot of days here to get better," Ninkovich said Thursday. "Obviously, you get pads on you're starting to build that foundation of communication.
"We got a long way to go here through camp. There's no light yet."
While much of the camp focus has been on the offense, which will be missing quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games because of his "Deflategate" suspension and has key players returning from surgery, the defense is getting used to life without Chandler Jones.
The Patriots finished second in the league with 49 sacks last season — and Jones led the way with 121/2 sacks. Jones was traded to Arizona during the offseason and will line up against his old team on opening night in Glendale, Arizona.
Ninkovich, who had 61/2 sacks last season, is expected to pick up some of the production without Jones.
"Chan was a great teammate — a good friend of mine, I'm definitely going to miss him as a friend and I wish him nothing but the best going forward," Ninkovich said.
"He's a great football player and everyone is going to have to step up without him, but that's just the name of the game.
"There's always going to be change. I've been here eight years and I've seen a lot of guys come and go. You just have to move on and the next guy's gotta perform — that's just the name of the business."
As far as opening night, and seeing Jones, Ninkovich says, "You have to look at him across the field and hope he doesn't do what he does best."
Defensive end Chris Long and tackle Terrance Knighton have been added to the front seven for a team that finished ninth in the league in team defense and 10th in points allowed.
Cornerback Cyrus Jones was the team's top draft pick — No. 60 in the draft — and has looked good.
"I felt last year we got better throughout the season," safety Devin McCourty said. "A lot of young guys — just trying to build on that and get that going this year.
"Any time you lose a great player like Chan, different guys have to step up and take on different roles, especially in our defense, he plays so many different roles. But I think we're got guys here who can handle all the different situations — maybe not one guy but a group of guys."
Knighton said he's trying to learn as fast as he can to avoid be "the weak link."
Long likes what he sees from his new teammates, the way they go about their business. "I'm just trying to do the best that I can to fit in to that group," he said.
Said Ninkovich: "Defensively we really have to get better individually. That's what the training camp is for, work on your fundamentals and footwork, hand placement so you're becoming a better football player. At the end of the day, when everyone is working on themselves and you come together as a team you're a better team.
"We've got a long way to go."
Ninkovich said the players are ready to hit someone on a different team, and they'll get the chance to do that next Tuesday and Wednesday, when the New Orleans Saints visit for joint workouts before the preseason opener next Thursday night.
NOTES: Tom Brady was intercepted by safety Duron Harmon for the second time in camp Thursday. ... Jimmy Garoppolo had a strong day, unofficially at 10 for 10 at one point. ... With the wide receiver position thin as Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola continue rehabbing offseason surgeries and others banged up, Chris Harper had a good day — including beating corner Logan Ryan by 5 yards and hauling in a long pass from Brady. ... Fullback James Develin beat Ninkovich on a wheel route and caught a long pass from Garoppolo. ... Offensive lineman Bryan Stork is out, reportedly with his fourth concussion in four years.
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