Wednesday, August 4, 2010 Updated: August 5, 12:41 PM ET
Pats should get after Aaron Schobel
By Mike Reiss ESPNBoston.com
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When it comes to free agent Aaron Schobel, the New England Patriots should make like Aaron Schobel: they should pin their ears back and get after it.
Aaron Schobel has sacked Tom Brady 12 times, more than any other player.
Schobel is just what the Patriots need, an immediate injection of pass-rushing explosion at a position filled with question marks, one that has been thinned by Derrick Burgess's unexpected decision to not show up for training camp.
That such an option is potentially available to them, or any team for that matter, is unusual at this time of year. But it became a reality on Wednesday when the Buffalo Bills released the 32-year-old Schobel, whose agent told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that his client intends to play in 2010.
The Patriots are well aware of Schobel's resume and 78 career sacks, having faced him twice a year since he was the Buffalo Bills' second-round draft choice in 2001 at No. 46 overall. He's had some memorable battles with New England left tackle Matt Light, the 48th-overall selection in that same draft.
Reports of a loud exhale heard around Gillette Stadium on Wednesday morning have not been confirmed, although it would make sense that it came from Light. No player has sacked Tom Brady more than Schobel (12), who is right there alongside Jason Taylor as Light's top nemesis over the past nine seasons.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick wasn't tipping his hand when asked about Schobel on Wednesday, but one needs only to hit the rewind button to past comments to learn how disruptive he feels Schobel can be.
"He's killed us," Belichick said in 2007 as the Patriots were preparing to face the Bills. "He's got a lot of things going for him. He's got a great motor. He works hard on every play. He's never out of a play. He's got several good moves. He can get up-field. He's got a good spin move. Even though he's not the biggest guy, he's got explosive power. He's hard for everybody to block."
The Patriots' potential courting of Schobel, who totaled 10 sacks in 2009, could turn out to be a fruitless pursuit if Schobel decides he'd prefer to play closer to home -- he went to TCU and attended high school in Columbus, Texas. If that is the case, the Houston Texans would be the front-runner, assuming they were interested.
Otherwise, the main obstacles would seemingly be financial or scheme-related, and those should be minor hurdles to clear in an uncapped season and with the creative defensive mind of Belichick.
The Patriots wouldn't be counting on Schobel to play outside linebacker in their 3-4 alignment. That would be unrealistic when considering that Schobel has been a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme his entire career.
But given the way the Patriots vary their defensive plan from week to week, and have multiple packages within their scheme, it's easy to imagine a significant role for Schobel in which he could be unleashed to do what he does best: get after the quarterback as an end-of-the-line defender. His presence would be huge in weeks when the team elects to play a four-man line, such as last year's matchup with the Indianapolis Colts.
As it currently stands, the Patriots have Tully Banta-Cain (eighth year), Rob Ninkovich (fifth year) and second-round draft choice Jermaine Cunningham as their top rush defensive ends. Schobel would immediately shoot to the top of the depth chart in that type of role.
It just makes too much sense.
In 2007, when the Patriots courted receiver Wes Welker in free agency, Belichick made the point that the team had so much trouble covering Welker that it was a no-brainer to bring him aboard.
The same thinking could now be applied to Schobel, who could be a Ted Washington-type acquisition.
Patriots followers might remember training camp in 2003 and how the team had a major hole at nose tackle. An experiment with Jarvis Green didn't produce the desired results, and there were questions as to whether the Patriots could effectively run their defense without a big nose tackle in the middle.
Then, in one of the best trades of Belichick's tenure, he acquired the space-eating Washington from the Chicago Bears for a fourth-round draft choice. Washington was a rock in the middle of the defense, a crucial cog in the team's Super Bowl XXXVIII win.
Similar questions currently exist with the Patriots' pass rush, and now comes a possible solution, one that wouldn't even cost a draft pick to acquire. It's almost too good to be true.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.