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Jabaal Sheard primed to seize expanded role with Patriots after Chandler Jones trade

PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- One of the reasons the New England Patriots felt comfortable trading Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals in March is the player who now projects to fill the majority of his role: defensive end Jabaal Sheard.

In 2015, Sheard was No. 3 on the depth chart, playing 51 percent of the defensive snaps. That number should rise this season and the 27-year-old seems ready to embrace the challenge.

"It's football. There's change. You never know what's going to happen," he said Wednesday during a break at a Fuel Up To Play 60 event. "You just have to embrace it and go out there and deal with it."

In that sense, it could be a return to Sheard's NFL roots when considering his defensive snap-count totals over his career with the Cleveland Browns (2011-2014) and Patriots (2015):

  • 2011: 914

  • 2012: 928

  • 2013: 626

  • 2014: 645

  • 2015: 558

If Sheard can handle an increased workload, health will be a big factor, and this offseason has been kind to him in that area. He said he didn't require any surgery, with a combination of ice tub, hot tub and massage working best for his 6-foot-3, 260-pound frame.

The Patriots' projected depth chart at defensive end has Rob Ninkovich and Sheard as the top tandem, followed by veteran Chris Long and second-year players Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers and Rufus Johnson. Free-agent acquisition Shea McClellin also lined up at that spot in last Thursday's organized team activity, mostly opposite Long.

For his part, Sheard feels he's starting at a higher point entering his second season with the Patriots. His two-year, $11 million pact represented one of the better bargains in free agency last year.

"Learning the system last year, you feel a lot more comfortable going into this season," he said. "Just getting ready for the season, I can think more along the lines of preparing my body and thinking about football rather than just learning the playbook."

Then there's the business side of the game, which lingers for the Patriots as Sheard is one of several top defenders entering the final season of a contract. The group includes cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan, linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower, and special-teams captain Matthew Slater, among others.

"I'm not even thinking about that, man," Sheard said. "I'm just focused on this season, going out there and taking care of business and winning as many games as we can possibly win."