Fanene adds girth to team’s defensive line
FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots have bulked up their defensive line this season, and it started just a day or two after free agency opened, when they signed Jonathan Fanene away from the Bengals.
The 30-year old Fanene, who is entering his eighth season, is listed at 6 feet 4 inches, 285 pounds, and has that one thing the Patriots covet: versatility. Primarily an end who is strong against the run, he also could play tackle.
After seven seasons in a system different than the Patriots’, Fanene said Tuesday that his only concern is learning what he needs to know.
“There are a lot of things to learn for me,” he said. “It’s new to me so I’ve got to do my best to learn, not just inside the classroom but on the field too.”
Cincinnati does use a 4-3 base defense, but it is different than what the Patriots are asking of their linemen, as Fanene is learning. He called it a “big transition.”
“It doesn’t matter 4-3, 3-4, I just need to learn my assignment and get better every day,’’ he said. ‘’Like coach Bill [Belichick] says, be consistent in everything you do and just learn the defense.”
Last week, Belichick wasn’t ready to evaluate Fanene after just a couple of practices, but he did highlight some of his positives.
“He’s got good playing strength; he’s quick,” Belichick said. “He’s definitely a guy that’s going to be real competitive in that group. It looks like a pretty good group, there’s a lot of competition in there, but I think he’ll be very competitive with them.”
Asked if he’s noticed a difference between Cincinnati and New England, Fanene chuckled a bit, tipping his hand, but then he remembered he shouldn’t say much.
“I’m here now,” he said. “I’m here, I need to work hard, do my job, do my assignment, get better every day and be consistent. The big thing for me this training camp is to learn, and there’s a lot of things I need to pick up.”
One player who has flown under the radar thus far in camp but has a lot to prove is Springfield native and Boston College product Ron Brace. Starting his fourth year, Brace has played in just 29 games in his career, having dealt with a variety of injuries.
He’s held his own in one-on-one drills and in his chances as a backup defensive tackle.
“Anything they ask me to do, anything that they ask of me, I try to make better each practice,” Brace said. “You only get so many [practices] before the first game, before the Saints get here, so I’m just trying to work on the little things and make myself a better player and a factor in this defense.”
Brace began last season on the physically unable to perform list (elbow), and was a backup in seven games before being a healthy scratch for four of the Patriots’ last five games, including the Super Bowl.
Asked if he is motivated by not playing much in 2011, Brace said, “If not playing doesn’t motivate a player, I don’t know what would.”
Drafted in 2009, this is the fourth and final year of Brace’s rookie contract.
Veteran linebacker Bobby Carpenter has gotten quite a bit of run with the top defensive units, but he’s also an experienced special teams player, which is always a plus with the Patriots.
“I’ve played a lot of special teams. They put a premium on that here,” he said. “Everybody is playing something, whether you’re playing 60 snaps on defense or 10, they want to make sure that guys are getting in there and playing special teams. [Special teams coach Scott O’Brien] is a great coach, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Though he turns 29 Wednesday, Carpenter is one of the older members of the linebacking group, a fact of which he has taken notice.
“You know you’re getting old when you start counting guys older than you rather than younger than you, because there’s less of them and more of the younger guys,” he joked.
In fact, the only linebacker on the current roster who is older than Carpenter is Tracy White.
Belichick had no update on Brian Waters or when the veteran guard would rejoin the team . . . Former linebacker Carl Banks, who played for Belichick with the Giants and Browns and currently serves as the Giants’ radio color analyst, was at practice on Tuesday, wearing Patriots garb. He was just on hand for a couple of days, working with the linebackers with former teammate Pepper Johnson . . . The Patriots Hall of Fame induction ceremony for receiver Troy Brown will be Sept. 17 on the plaza outside the Hall at Patriot Place. Attendance is free.