New England coach Bill Belichick offers his thoughts on Chase Winovich, a rookie from Michigan. Matt Schoch, Special to The Detroit News
Allen Park — Chase Winovich joked on Twitter recently that teammate Julian Edelman was hazing him, even tagging the NFL Players Association in his “complaint."
Then Tuesday, his coach took the podium and said he’s a rookie and needs to learn everything.
But in reality, life is good for the former Michigan star as he prepares to open his NFL career with the New England Patriots, playing in front of familiar fans in his first preseason game Thursday in Detroit.
In training camp, there’s been hands-on training with Patriots legend Willie McGinest, a helpful hand from another Wolverines alumnus in Tom Brady, and an opportunity for playing time in a scheme that fits his skillset.
He’s growing comfortable with the Patriots, who despite not giving him his own number yet, have so far allowed him to keep his flowing blonde hair.
“Every day is just a learning process,” Winovich said after a strong practice Tuesday, the second day of joint sessions with the Lions. “When you put yourself in the different environments and uncomfortable situations, and that situation doesn’t change, it forces you as a person and as a player to grow. I look forward to that: Being the best human and best teammate and best player that I could be every day.”
That lack of comfort is normal for an NFL rookie, especially on the Patriots, who drafted Winovich in the third round.
With New England losing Trey Flowers off last season’s defensive line to the Lions, the door could be open for Winovich to play some this season.
Winovich, 24, seems to fit as a rush end in the stunt-heavy defense for New England, which also lost defensive end Adrian Clayborn to Atlanta.
The unofficial depth chart lists Michael Bennett, acquired in a trade this offseason from Philadelphia, and former backup Deatrich Wise Jr. as the starting ends, with Winovich at the bottom of the list with the rest of the rookies.
Like the Lions, the Patriots list rookies toward the bottom of early depth charts. New England has taken it a step further, forcing rookies to go numberless in the past.
The NFL stepped in and made Bill Belichick give rookies numbers for training camp; the legendary coach now assigns them numbers in the undesirable 50s, 60s and 70s based on their draft position.
That’s why this week in Allen Park, fourth-round quarterback Jarrett Stidham threw passes wearing No. 58, and wide receiver Jacob Meyers caught some donning 69.
Winovich does not look out of place with No. 52, but he’ll likely have to change when the real games begin, as he shares the numbers with Elandon Roberts. Roberts listed as a defensive starter, and teams can’t have duplicate numbers on the field at the same time.
But still, don’t believe what Winovich posted about hazing on Twitter, according to his dad, who came up from suburban Pittsburgh this week to watch his son.
Not only are players like Edelman not giving Chase Winovich a tough time, Peter Winovich Jr. said, but the reigning Super Bowl MVP plays Fortnite with him almost every night.
“He said their whole organization has been first class, and Brady has been over the top professional and kind,” Peter Winovich said, noting his son has taken note of Brady’s support and “sincere hugs” for teammates. “They’ve had a Michigan connection.”
Wearing No. 15 Michigan jerseys, Peter and Chase’s mom Nina, along with Chase Winovich’s niece Penelope and goddaughter Naomi, cheered loudly for Chase, who was giving them ample reason on Tuesday.
He made a big special teams hit and also went right around Lions offensive tackle Taylor Decker in a one-on-one drill.
Winovich says he approaches on-field combat like Mike Tyson, being fearful of opponents, and didn’t take anything extra from getting past an Ohio State alum.
“No extra pride for me, they’re just a suit,” Winovich said. “You take each guys individually and you learn from the previous pass rush.
“I got a couple pages of notes from those guys. Just trying to be the best player I can be, and learn from it.”
Throughout the week, Winovich has gotten extra attention from the crowd, and he said it’s funny to be getting cheers from fans wearing Lions’ jerseys.
Penelope and Naomi then gave Winovich an extra workout on the field after practice before the young girls hit the conditioning hill for fun, while Winovich was surrounded by a couple dozen reporters asking both about his Michigan past and New England present.
"He told his brother, who came yesterday, this feels just like home," Peter Winovich Jr. said.
Though Belichick noted rookies need to “learn everything,” he’s eager to see Winovich play Thursday in the preseason opener.
“Chase is tough, he runs well, he’s got good size, good power,” Belichick said. “He had a very productive career at Michigan and we’re looking forward to seeing him out there in some game action, both on defense and in the kicking game. But, like every rookie, he’s got a long way to go and a lot of things to work on. It’s a different game, and the competition’s very high.
“He’ll battle it and see how it goes.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.