Ex-Jet Ellis faces former team for 1st time
FOXBOROUGH, Mass.—Shaun Ellis was a dangerous intruder in New England's backfield when he sacked Tom Brady twice in last season's playoffs. He was a welcome addition when he walked into the locker room as a member of the Patriots this year.
When he arrived, though, he wasn't sure how he'd be received by the players he helped beat in January.
"A couple of guys mentioned it, but the team really embraced me when I came here," Ellis said Wednesday. "I was kind of a little fuzzy about it at first, but they really took me in, man, showed me how they do things around here. It's been great."
Another odd meeting is set for Sunday when he looks across the line at Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.
"It's definitely going to be different for me," Ellis said. "You just kind of treat it like you do in one of the green-and-white scrimmages (with the Jets). We did scrimmage against each other quite a bit."
Ellis' road out of New York had some friction.
Before last season, he asked for a contract extension, but the Jets cited their policy of having older veterans play out their contracts.
"That was kind of like a slap in the face," Ellis told The Associated Press then.
So he spent the season with New York, playing in 18 games, including three in the playoffs. A 28-21 win over the Patriots sent the Jets to the AFC championship game where they lost 24-19 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Jets said they wanted Ellis back but offered only the veteran minimum of $910,000 and, Ellis said, refused to increase it substantially when he went back to them for a final offer. They used their first two draft picks on defensive linemen and Ellis signed with the Patriots on Aug. 8.
"I wasn't hurt," he said. "It was just a decision that they made that they wanted to go a different route. For me, it was about putting myself in the best situation."
At the time, Jets coach Rex Ryan said he had "a great deal of respect" for Ellis and "I wish him to be healthy," but "there's no way I'm going to wish him well."
That last quote from the outspoken coach grabbed the attention of some media.
Ellis simply brushed it off before going to practice on Wednesday.
"Rex is Rex," he said. "He's going to voice his opinion, whether jokingly or being serious. So I just didn't pay any attention to it. It's a business decision and it led me here. So I'm here, happy to be here."
Now if he can just contribute more.
In four games at defensive end, Ellis has just three tackles and no sacks.
"I definitely have room to improve," he said. "It's a gradual building process for me so I just want to go out, continue practicing and working hard and getting my assignments down -- just how they play things, just the technique issues and things like that. It's gradually coming. I've just got to be able to turn it loose."
But his new coach doesn't seem worried.
Ellis "has definitely played well against us. He's played well against a lot of people," Bill Belichick said. "He's very professional, does everything right and does what we ask him to do, not only works hard to improve himself, but also helps his teammates and some of the younger players."
His former coach seems to agree that he's still a solid player.
"Shaun is an excellent player because he can play a 3-4 defensive end, he can play in a 4-3 defense, so they're doing multiple things," Ryan said Wednesday. "I think it was a good move by Belichick to bring him in because he is a guy that can play in multiple (or) any defense that you've got."
Ellis might also help his own offensive linemen by sharing his knowledge of the Jets defense.
"He's been in that system for a long time, so, definitely, I'll try to pick his brain as much as possible," right guard Brian Waters said.
The Patriots have just six sacks and have allowed an average of 477.4 yards per game, the most in the NFL, but defensive line coach Pepper Johnson sees beyond the gloomy numbers, especially with veterans Ellis, Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter and Mark Anderson adjusting to a new system in their first season with the Patriots.
"I'm not much of a stat person," Johnson said. "I just know how we have been affecting some throws."
And he praised Ellis, despite the former Jets' unimpressive statistics.
"Shaun is a trooper," Johnson said. "He's a guy that right when I want to scream at him for a play, he comes back and he turns around and he makes a good play. I know he's one of those guys I'm kind of talking about that's working at trying to do some of the things we ask him to do. A lot of things that we ask him to do are kind of different from his play in the past, but he's been improving."
After 11 years with the team that drafted him with the 12th pick in 2000, the last two with the same coach, his adjustment may take some time.
But the skills are there. Ellis had 6.5 sacks last season, including the two against the Patriots. Sixteen of his 74.5 sacks have been against New England, compared with 12.5 against Miami and eight against Buffalo, the other teams in the AFC East.
And he tackled Patriots quarterbacks in 11 of his 22 games against them.
On Sunday, he could get his first sack against the Jets.
"It's definitely going to be different," he said, "but I'm a Patriot so I just want to go out and play my best in this game."