FOXBORO -- Kony Ealy indicated last week that he was held out of Day 1 of training camp practice by Bill Belichick, but he seems to have impressed his new head coach with what he's shown over the course of the last few days.
The former Panthers defensive lineman has had a bit of a bumpy start to his Patriots tenure. He left a minicamp practice early and then was not present for one of the team's OTA sessions. When he wasn't on the field for Day 1 of camp, it raised some eyebrows.
New player. New scheme. Last year of his rookie contract. Big opportunity in front of him with Rob Ninkovich's departure. It felt as though he should be on the field as much as possible if he was going to carve himself a role.
What Belichick said about Ealy on Tuesday, though, made it appear as though the team was encouraged with his progress of late.
"Good," Belichick said of Ealy's transition from Carolina to New England. "We've worked him in a number of different positions, both inside and outside. I think we've asked him to do more in coverage than he did in Carolina. Carolina doesn't do a lot with their defensive ends in pass coverage. We probably do significantly more than they do. Not with their linebackers, but with their ends and their coverage responsibilities . . .
"Those are things he's had to adjust to. But he's a smart kid. He works hard, and he's building his versatility. We'll see how far that goes but he's got the ability to play inside, to play outside on the end of the line, to play in some coverage situations, have a role in the kicking game, which was another thing that wasn't a big role in Carolina. I don't know how big it will be here, but it's already, I would say, more than what he had there. We've asked him to do some new things, and we'll evaluate those as we go through camp and see how it goes."
Belichick later highlighted some of the things the Patriots are looking for in their left ends and right ends. Ninkovich held down the left end spot for years with the Patriots, and in camp practices thus far we've seen Geneo Grissom handle those duties. Trey Flowers, meanwhile, has manned the right spot.
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The difference, Belichick explained, is in large part what the team entrusts a player to do coverage-wise. The left end spot typically needs to be able to cover -- oftentimes because a right-handed quarterback may be prone to testing that side of the field more frequently.
Can Ealy be that combination of pass-rush-and-coverage option? That kind of role would be new to him so these next few weeks of training camp could be an audition to serve as Ninkovich's successor.