By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
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."