Chase Winovich working to solidify role in Patriots' loaded linebacker room

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When New England Patriots outside linebacker Chase Winovich arrived at the interview podium after his preseason debut last week, it felt like part football interview, part philosophy session.

Winovich, 26, talked about feng shui and everything fitting together in his life and on the field. He noted how he adopts a "you vs. you" approach and referred to himself in the third person by saying, "All I can do is be the best version of Chase as possible." He also highlighted how he takes things "strand by strand, just like building a web."

Winovich got tangled in an injury web this offseason, sidelined with what one source said was a groin injury that led him to open training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

He was cleared to practice Aug. 15 and made a notable impact in Thursday's preseason victory against the Philadelphia Eagles -- totaling five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in 19 snaps. One of his only blemishes was being penalized for roughing the passer.

"I missed [playing]. It feels like forever when you're going through certain processes," Winovich said, vaguely referencing the injury.

"It's a weird thing out in the world at large; as fans, and media, you only have access to so much information. Obviously, I can't give much commentary on it, which 'it is what it is.' A lot of it is, as they say, noise. I just kept focusing on doing the things I had to do to prepare and let my actions speak for themselves."

The "noise" Winovich references has multiple layers. It wasn't necessarily just about why he wasn't practicing, but also where he fits on the team.

The Patriots are loaded at his outside linebacker spot, with big-bucks free-agent signing Matt Judon a projected starter opposite the returning Kyle Van Noy, and promising pass-rusher Josh Uche (2020 second-round draft pick) a top backup. That puts Winovich in the fourth or fifth spot on the depth chart with 2021 third-round pick Ronnie Perkins, which has sparked speculation the Patriots would consider trading Winovich.

That would be an unexpected turn from this time last year, when Winovich, a third-round draft pick in 2019, was identified as a breakout candidate based on ESPN's win rate metrics created by using NFL Next Gen Stats.

Winovich led the Patriots with 5.5 sacks last season, playing 59% of the defensive snaps -- a total that reflected how coaches limited him from too many situations in which he would have to play a traditional set-the-edge role against the run. But when the defense needed a pass-rush boost, Winovich was usually part of the plan, as well as a contributor in the kicking game.

He projects to a similar role in 2021.

"It was good to have Chase back out there," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said after the game against the Eagles. "Chase is a little further behind because he missed some time, but he'll work hard and be able to pick things back up."

Belichick said Winovich's experience in the system should help, with outside linebackers coach Steve Belichick adding Winovich was taking part in all meetings while working his way back to full health.

"He brings a lot of energy on the field. He brought it in the meeting room before he was out there," Steve Belichick said. "He's been working hard and taking mental reps prior to being out on the field. ... He plays very hard, that's always consistent, so now it's just knocking the rust off, the technique, and keep pushing forward."

The way Winovich spoke after last Thursday's game, it was clear his health setback led him to deep introspection.

"I've had so many blessings come into my life, and so many people express to me so much love, this has truly been a transformative experience, me going through it," Winovich said, highlighting the importance of taking accountability and having a supportive team around him.

"There are so many areas of my life, before I became a Patriot, I never even considered I could grow in or things that matter. To be a Patriot, I always say, either one or two things is possible -- either coach [Bill] Belichick is one of the greatest coaches of all time by accident, or there is a reason or method behind everything we do. I have bought in, and I'm committed to whatever they ask me to do."