Jabaal Sheard speaks Tuesday with reporters at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)
FOXBORO — Rookies aren’t the only new players who notice a big change when they come to Foxboro.
After playing the last four seasons in Cleveland, hybrid defensive end Jabaal Sheard learned that right away after signing as a free agent with the Patriots in March.
Belichick wrapped up Saturday’s press conference by telling reporters that each rookie better be ready to jump on board right away or risk getting left in the dust when the train picks up steam. Same goes for free agent newbies.
“You get that feeling as soon as you walk in the building,” Sheard said Tuesday at Gillette Stadium. “You’re here to work. It’s definitely work first, hard hat on, and I learned that the first day, from the first team meeting on, you kind of get that feel of being in the weight room. You’ve got to lift on your own. They give you a card, go follow it, what you choose to do, what you choose not to do is on you. You’re responsible. You become what you put in. They showed me that early, as soon as I got here the first week.”
Sheard, who will wear No. 93 with the Patriots, said he has nothing but respect for the Belichick system.
“Just come here and just work. Every coach is different. Just give him respect and let’s get to work,” Sheard said.
Sheard said that may be intimidating to some in the NFL but not him.
“I guess because he’ll call you out on what you do wrong but that’s part of wearing a hard had and hard shell,” Sheard said of his new head coach. “That’s part of football. If you can’t take any criticism, I don’t know how you can get any better.”
Sheard played college ball at Pittsburgh and was selected with the 37th overall pick in the second round of the 2011 draft by the Browns. The Patriots could’ve taken Sheard in that draft but instead chose cornerback Ras-I Dowling. Sheard went to the Browns four picks after Dowling at No. 37 overall.
“I actually did visit here coming out of the draft,” Sheard recalled. “I thought I was going to end up here at first. I think I came and visited a week before the draft. Coach Belichick and met with a couple of the coaches and here I am.
“I think I developed a lot. I learned a lot of different systems. Being in Cleveland [four] years, we went through three different defensive coordinators, three different systems, three different head coaches. I got to grow a lot and understand more what the league is about and what they expect out of you and how to be a professional in this league.”
The Patriots are getting a prototype Belichick front seven player in Sheard, someone who can play up or down and inside or outside.
“Obviously, I came into the league playing a 4-3, which is [playing with] my hand in the dirt,” Sheard said. “Through the course of the years, I learned a lot. I learned three different defenses, I learned how to drop back. It made me diverse and [made me] able to do a lot of different things. So, I think three different coordinators definitely helped me. I mean it prepared me to be a coach maybe one day. We’ll see how that goes.
“I’m just excited to be here. Coach Belichick is a smart guy. Obviously, they’re going to put us in the right situation to get the job done. He’s been there before. I’m just here to get the job done and do what I can to help the team, basically.”
Part of his acclimation in New England has been hanging out with new teammates and other teammates new to New England, like linebacker Jonathan Freeny. Sheard and Freeny both attended a Celtics playoff game against the Cavaliers recently and had a blast.
“Honestly, you may hate me a little bit. I’m a Heat fan,” Sheard admitted. “But I was there for the support of the game, support Boston. Obviously, being here. Everyone is a fan of LeBron and watching him play. So, I was just there to enjoy the game and get out and see the city and support Boston a little bit.”
“Freeny was there. Everybody else was still at the White House. I didn’t get to go there.”
Sheard is now joining a front seven that already features Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich.
“We just started installing the playbook so we’re just getting a little bit into the plays. Just what they want from you on the field as far as technique, as far as certain [techniques] on how to get off blocks, other small techniques that can help you later on throughout football, throughout camp,” Sheard said.
“Those little things that kick in right now, obviously when we’re allowed to get more physical and everything else kicks in, everything else will come in. Honestly, I’m excited, watching those guys on film for years. Chan was in the Big East. A younger guy but could always rush. I’ve been watching him play throughout the years. I’ve been a fan of his, just watching him rush. Same for Ninkovich. Chan, I’ve been watching him for a while. I just think we’re all going to work together, all three of us are going to work together to get the job done. It’s going to be exciting.”
In his rookie season, he started all 16 games for the Browns and led the team in sacks (8.5) and forced fumbles (5). Sheard and teammate Phil Taylor were chosen to the Pro Football Weekly 2011 All-Rookie Team.
In Week 2, Sheard recorded his first career sack and forced fumble against the Colts and recorded a career-high two sacks against the Cardinals in Week 15.
In 2012, Sheard started all 16 games for the Browns, recording seven sacks and 36 tackles. In 2013, Sheard was limited by injury but still started 13 games, recording 5.5 sacks and 19 tackles.
Sheard improved in 2014 under a new coaching staff led by head coach Mike Pettine. Last season, he started all 16 games and ended the year with 44 combined tackles (25 solo, 19 assisted) and two sacks.
Sheard hit the free agent market and the Patriots didn’t miss again. They remembered interviewing him in 2011 before the draft and looked at his film and his production, and decided to sign him to a two-year, $11 million contract on March, 11.
“It’s been fun. It’s been exciting,” Sheard said. “It’s been hard learning my way around the building but other than that, the city’s been great. I got go out and see the city a little bit, experience a [Celtics] playoff game against Cleveland and my teammates have been showing me around, showing me a good time.
“You kind of got your individual standards. Coaches, I think they relay more information to you of what they expect. Guys are just working hard, pushing one another.”
Here’s more from Sheard Tuesday:
On joining Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich:
“Outside linebacker group, Rob, Chan, and Eric Martin, who was with me in Cleveland. A couple of guys you see around the league that have bounced around. Familiar faces always make you feel a little bit more comfortable.”
“It’s definitely good. You get to see familiar faces. You get to [develop] more of a family atmosphere. All the guys are kind of familiar with each other, coaches. It’s kind of like a family thing. Guys are pretty close and I think that helps out a lot.”
On Super Bowl and thinking about Patriots:
“Nah. I just watched it and enjoyed it as a fan, a fan of football. It was just exciting to watch. A very good game and came down to the very last second and that made it even better.”
On knowing if he was signing with Patriots:
“I had no idea. I was just coming into free agency, not knowing what was going to happen.”
On other teammates:
“It’s been cool, man. Everybody is like a family around here. They accept you in right away. It’s just been cool, showing you the city. It’s definitely a different city compared to Cleveland. There wasn’t a lot going on until LeBron came back. It was what it was. But here, there’s definitely a lot of life going on, people downtown enjoying the city.
“Just here in Foxboro alone, come out here by the strip mall, get some good weather [Monday], it’s been OK. Just get better as a player. Get close with my teammates and figure out the system and learn as much as I can throughout this offseason.”
Depth here with rookie draft picks:
“Huge. Coming into the season, you have injuries, you have guys fatigue. A lot of different things happen where guys have to step up and play. It’s important to have those guys there ready to play and ready to step up and make plays.”
On Matt Patricia:
“Definitely a great coach. I met him when I came here my rookie year. Great coach, very down to earth and speak to him anytime. He’s ready to work. He’s like another guy bring your hard hat. I think he’s very personable, though.”
On different coordinators in Cleveland:
“It gives me a lot of confidence. It’s kind of what we did a little bit last year, game planning week by week. That forces you to learn the whole defense and makes you a lot smarter and I think that’s part of the reason they brought me here.”
On wearing No. 93:
“That’s cool. A number is a number. Change it up. Different system. It’ll be exciting to start with a new number and a whole new lifestyle. I’ve been No. 97 since college and in high school I was [No.] 90.”
On pressure of winning:
“Every city you go to, even though I was in Ohio, we lost but the pressure was on us to win. Honestly, we went into every year thinking this could be our year. I think in football in general, I wouldn’t be on that team, playing for that team, if I didn’t think we had a chance to win. I want to win. Every player competes to win. Obviously, there’s going to be pressure to win every year. But that’s what we build for. That’s why we work so hard in the offseason.”
On the hope of actually going to White House as champion:
“Hopefully. That’s the big dream. That’s a big step so hopefully.”