FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – When the Carolina Panthers released Damione Lewis to cut salary, he was happy to join the New England Patriots even though he’d have to switch to a new defensive alignment.

At least he’s not alone.

The Patriots also signed Gerard Warren, who had played in a 4-3 setup before being let go by the Oakland Raiders. He was released on March 11, a week after Lewis.

Now, more than a week into training camp, both players are making progress learning the 3-4 as the Patriots try to upgrade a defensive line that lost Richard Seymour in a trade to Oakland before last season and Jarvis Green as a free agent. Green signed with Denver after last season.

The 3-4 is “a totally different ballgame” than what he’s used to, Lewis said Friday, but he’s not intimidated by the adjustment.

“I’m a football player so I’m going to go out and do what they ask me to do,” he said. “If it’s a change of system, if it’s me going from one team to another, whatever it is. I love the game and I have a true passion for the game and any opportunity that I have to play, I’m going to come out and play.”

The 2001 draft was a strong one for defensive linemen. Warren was taken third by the Cleveland Browns, Seymour went sixth to the Patriots and Lewis was picked 12th by the St. Louis Rams. Seymour has had the most successful career, but the other two bring veteran savvy to a young defense.

“I’ve known Gerard for a long time and he’s been a good friend of mine for years,” Lewis said. “So it helps sitting there talking to him, just gathering what he’s thinking and what I’m thinking, and we’re just trying to help each other grow.”

Playing in a complex new system can be a difficult learning process. In the 4-3, the primary job of the defensive lineman is to penetrate into the backfield. In the 3-4, the focus is more on trying to play off blocks rather than making an all-out charge.

“Our defense is just structured a little differently, but I think they have adapted very well,” Coach Bill Belichick said. They’re “both smart guys, very professional, work hard, both in good condition. They’ve taken a lot of snaps out there. They’ve, overall, I’d say performed very well both in the running game, the passing game, (and) the communication.”

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork is the key to that communication. Wilfork was the Patriots’ first-round pick in 2004. And he should be around for a while. He agreed to a five-year contract in March.

“He’s done a good job of keeping us in tune with what’s going on,” Lewis said. “A lot of stuff is coming from studying and just trying to make sure that I know what’s going on by seeing the formations.

“It’s been a process. It’s a little different on the 4-3, but I think it’s going well.”

The Patriots’ defensive line had big problems in a 33-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the playoffs last season. On the first play from scrimmage, Ray Rice raced up the middle for an 83-yard touchdown.

Whether they back up Wilfork or play end, Lewis and Warren are being counted on to stop plays like that.

“They’ve been around this game,” Wilfork said. “They know exactly what they need to do. Now they’re in a different scheme, but their professionalism is outstanding.”

Lewis started all 31 games he played the past two seasons but only 65 of the 131 during his career. After getting 11½ sacks in his first three seasons with Carolina, he managed just a half a sack last year. Warren’s numbers have been much better — 32 sacks in 135 games, 127 of them starts.

Now they’re working with Wilfork and end Ty Warren, two other first-round picks with solid careers who should ease the adjustment of the veteran newcomers.

“They can certainly handle themselves without any help,” Belichick said, “but then when you put it all together, I think that the chemistry and those guys playing and working off each other has been good and I think will continue to improve. I like both of those players. I think they’ve done a good job for us.”