Johnson: Teaching D-line old dogs new tricks

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Johnson: Teaching D-line old dogs new tricks

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
Follow @sherrodbcsn
The New England Patriots defensive line is filled with new faces and in some instances, those new faces are being looked upon to contribute differently than they have at previous stops.

That unfamiliarity is among the reasons why -- statistically at least -- the Patriots defense has struggled so mightily in these first few weeks of the NFL season.

While the numbers might suggest otherwise, Pats defensive line coach Pepper Johnson does believe the defense is improving.

"It's kind of hard teaching some old dogs new tricks," Johnson said. "But we have some guys buying into the system, and working at it, working hard, trying to do some of the things that we're asking them to do."

One of those players is defensive end Shaun Ellis, now in his first season with New England after spending his previous 11 (2000-2010) with the Patriots opponent on Sunday, the New York Jets.

"Shaun is a trooper," Johnson said. "He's a guy -- like when I want to scream at him for a play -- he comes back and turns around and makes a good play."

Johnson added, "He's one of those guys that I'm talking about. He's trying to do some things that we ask him to do. A lot of things that we ask him to do, it's kind of different from his play in the past. But he's been improving."

Ellis said getting to know how to play with his new teammates along the defensive line is the biggest challenge. No matter how much time you spend watching film, he said, it doesn't compare to actually being on the field with one another.

"I kind of put it in mind like, a jump-shooter goes out and shoots a whole bunch of jumpers all day long," Ellis said. "Just get that feel so that when he gets in games, it just comes naturally."

Making the challenge of establishing chemistry even more daunting has been the absence of defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, one of the Patriots' top offseason pickups.

There's no way anyone knows what impact having Haynesworth would make on a defense that's giving up a league-high 477.5 yards per game which includes 108.8 yards rushing per game which ranks 18th in the NFL.

Haynesworth or no Haynesworth, one thing we do know having him available wouldn't hurt.

Johnson knows this, but you won't hear him grumble or gripe about what the Pats defensive line doesn't have right now.

"Coach Belichick would punch me in the face if I got frustrated if I didn't have a particular player," Johnson said. "My job is to not count on one person or something like that. My job is to coach whoever is out there on the field. Until Albert is out there on the field, we have to try and win ball games without him."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

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Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will head into Sunday's AFC title game with seven players listed as questionable, including three receivers. 

Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan have all been limited in practices this week due to their injuries. Amendola has been dealing with an ankle issue since a Week 13 win over the Rams, while Mitchell has not played since injuring his knee in Week 16 against the Jets. Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans and left the game in the third quarter.

Both Hogan and Mitchell indicated this week that they were moving in the right direction in terms of their recoveries. One would think that the Patriots would need at least one, if not both, to help stress the back end of the Steelers secondary this weekend.

Hogan has been the team's most consistent down-the-field threat this season, averaging a whopping 17.9 yards per catch during the regular season. Against the Texans, before his injury, he reeled in four passes for 95 yards. 

Mitchell, meanwhile, had a very productive second half of his rookie season before he was hurt. He compiled 25 catches for 306 yards between Weeks 11 and 16, establishing himself as one of Tom Brady's go-to targets. 

The overall health of the Patriots receiving corps -- which will also include Julian Edelman and Michael Floyd -- will bear watching when the Patriots and Steelers kick off in two days.

The injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

QUESTIONABLE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
DL Jabaal Sheard (knee)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

QUESTIONABLE
TE Ladarius Green (concussion/illness)
LB James Harrison (shoulder/triceps)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)

NOT LISTED
RB Le'Veon Bell (not injury related)
K Chris Boswell (illness)
LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle)
S Sean Davis (shoulder)
C B.J. Finney (illness)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bay (illness)
DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
QB Zach Mettenberger (illness)
S Michael Mitchell (not injury related)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related)
LB Vince Williams (shoulder)