FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Patriots Coach Bill Belichick has made no secret of his intention to upgrade the team’s defensive line and, with it, the pass rush.

That’s why there are 18 defensive linemen in camp as of Sunday, including four established veterans who were recently obtained through free agency or trade: Shaun Ellis, Albert Haynesworth, Mark Anderson and Andre Carter.

That has led to speculation the Patriots will employ more of a 4-3 defensive front instead of the 3-4 more commonly seen in recent seasons. With their current numbers, the Patriots could have an 11-0 front with plenty in reserve.

Pepper Johnson, who has been defensive line coach since 2004 after serving as linebackers coach, was asked Sunday to name the most challenging aspect of having so many new players coming in.

His answer? Bill Belichick.

“It doesn’t matter what player comes out here, he wants this done, so it doesn’t matter who comes out here,” he said.


Johnson said he believes he can get the best out of any player. “That’s what (Belichick) expects and that’s the reason why I’m here. I like to believe he had a lot of confidence in me as a player. That’s why I’m on his coaching staff. So, whichever player he puts in front of me, it doesn’t matter; I’m going to coach him the way Coach Belichick wants him coached.”

Johnson said he has already established a solid relationship with Haynesworth, whom he called “a great person.” Haynesworth has been struggling to get back on the practice field; he has been MIA for the past couple of weeks.

“I think he is excited about being here; I think he’s excited about playing football,” said Johnson. “Of course, he’s one of the best defensive lineman in the league, so I’m quite sure he’s going to make a big difference when we get out on the field.”

Johnson was asked if having Vince Wilfork as a teammate has eased Haynesworth’s transition.

“Vince helps everybody. He and Jerod Mayo – those guys, they’re remarkable with everybody. Vince has helped guys back there in the secondary — that’s his knowledge of football so for another defensive lineman, that’s nothing to him.”

Wilfork said the constant swirl of bodies around him on the defensive line has been no big deal.


“Every year you have players coming in and out. This year it’s a little different just because of how we started without the mini-camps and stuff like that, but other than that, it’s been the same.”

Johnson and other coaches and players have also been concerned with the situation of former Patriot player and coach Corwin Brown, who was fired from his position as defensive backs coach with the team in February.

He is in Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Ind. after suffering an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound during a tense standoff with police after a domestic dispute Friday in Granger, Ind.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said Johnson. “I mean, it was a stunner just getting the news. Right now, there’s just too much other stuff going on. It’s kind of hard to grasp it right now.”


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