Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Patriots training camp: Markus Kuhn could have major impact on defensive line

The Patriots signed defensive tackle Markus Kuhn to a one-year contract in April. The Associated Press

By Rich Garven

August 23, 2016

FOXBORO — The Patriots’ signing of defensive tackle Markus Kuhn to a one-year deal for nominal money in early April was viewed as a minor move. It’s potentially shaping up as one that could pay off handsomely.

The 6-foot-4, 315-pound Kuhn has impressed from the start of training camp
and, although he’s listed with the backups on the depth chart, has spent plenty of time paired with surefire starter Malcom Brown and the rest of the first-string defense this summer.

Not that he’s putting much stock in those quality reps.

“Honestly, that’s nothing I really think about when the coach says, ‘Markus, you’re up or you’re down,’ ” Kuhn recently said. “We’re in camp right now and we’re all rotating, we’re moving around a lot. So I don’t think that’s something to read too much into.”

Kuhn wasn’t in on any tackles in the Patriots’ preseason-opening win over the New Orleans Saints, but he did play quite a few snaps. He got the start, made one tackle and once again saw a healthy dose of action in a win over the Chicago Bears last week at Gillette Stadium.

The fifth-year pro has taken a pragmatic approach to his preseason performances.

“There are always things you can improve on; that’s what the preseason is for,” Kuhn said. “Some things you do on tape that you like or maybe you don’t like so much. So that’s what you try to do, correct those mistakes and maybe be better the next game.”

He’ll have that opportunity beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday when the Patriots face the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.

Kuhn, 30, was born and raised in Mannheim, Germany, a city of about 300,000 located in the southern part of the country near the French border. He started playing American football when he was 15 and ultimately landed a scholarship to North Carolina State after visiting the school in person and successfully drawing the attention of the coaching staff.

Although he only started one season for the Wolfpack, the New York Giants selected Kuhn in the seventh round with the 239th overall pick in 2012. The draft ended 14 picks later.

Kuhn was a longshot to make the Giants as a rookie, but he went on to spend four seasons in New York. He appeared in 39 games, making 10 starts and recording 48 tackles.

In 2014, Kuhn recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown in a win over the Tennessee Titans in early December. That made him the first German-born player to score a touchdown in NFL history.

While Kuhn is proud to have carved out a spot for himself in New York, his focus now is doing the same in New England.

“The Giants were the team that drafted me, I was there for four years,” said Kuhn, who is fluent in English. “But I’m with a new team; there are new things I’m trying to learn. I’m trying to be open to the way they play here and that’s what I’m focused on right now.”

Among other things, the Patriots have worked Kuhn as a nose tackle in a three-man front. That’s something he wasn’t asked to do with the Giants.

“Here what we play, sometimes I line up over the center,” Kuhn said. “These are the little things that I’m getting used to and I’m playing differently. But we rotate a lot and I’m just getting thrown in there and working with pretty much everybody.”

The expectation is the Patriots will keep four defensive tackles when they make the final round of cuts Sept. 3.

Brown, veteran Alan Branch and rookie Vincent Valentine, a third-round pick, appear to be assured of spots. That leaves Kuhn, the rising Anthony Johnson and the fading Terrance Knighton, who also signed a one-year deal in the offseason, as the leading contenders for the final spot.

It remains to be seen who’ll emerge from that tight competition, but the Patriots have liked what they’ve seen thus far from Kuhn.

“(He’s a) really good kid, smart, works hard, in good condition, seems to be able to go without any problems at all in terms of his stamina or conditioning,” coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s in good shape. Technique-wise, there are some things he needs to continue to work on but he is (working on them). He works hard. I’m glad we have him.”

And it just may be the minor move the Patriots made in signing Kuhn in April could have a major impact come September.

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