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Digging deeper on backup DEs

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Some good backup defensive end talk from Bill Belichick today at his news conference before practice.

Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are locked in as the starters, but there is a good competition unfolding for spots behind them with the following players:

Justin Francis (2nd year) – 6-4, 270

Jermaine Cunningham (4th year) – 6-3, 252

Jake Bequette (2nd year) – 6-5, 265

Marcus Benard (5th year) -- 6-2, 260

Michael Buchanan (rookie) – 6-6, 265

Jason Vega (1st year) – 6-4, 255

“I think all those guys have something to offer – some defensively, in the kicking game, in the running game, in the pass rush,” Belichick said. “Guys have a variety of skills but overall I think the competition has been good. They’ve all been working hard. We saw that in the spring and it’s continued here in training camp and I’m sure it will continue in the preseason.”

A few thoughts from Belichick on three of the candidates that piqued interest:

Bequette: “Jake is a smart guy. He definitely understands what we’re doing, what they’re doing, and he’s improved a lot from last year. He’s in a real competitive situation with several other guys at that spot. I think he’s definitely holding his own.”

Benard: “Works hard. Hard-working kid. He has a good attitude and a good motor. I think he’s been competitive. … He had a good start to his career and had a setback. We felt like he would be a good future signing, a good addition to this year, and he was here in the offseason and worked hard in the spring.”

Francis: “He’s a guy who works real hard and he worked hard from the first day we got him last year after the draft, all the way through training camp and into the season. Tough kid. Really competes well. Makes a lot of plays on effort and his strength and competitiveness. I think that was pretty consistent throughout the year. … I thought he got better through the course of the year; we did some different things with him, using him inside at times, and outside. He started some games on early downs and played some sub situations.”