Grugier-Hill an interesting fit for Patriots in a world of shrinking defenses

Grugier-Hill an interesting fit for Patriots in a world of shrinking defenses

FOXBORO -- Kamu Grugier-Hill knows he's supposed to play football for the Patriots, but he says he isn't completely sure where he'll be lined up when he's asked to take the field. 

He's listed as an outside linebacker on the Patriots roster. But he may be a safety. Or he may be a kick-coverage specialist. 

At this juncture, after a brief rookie minicamp and a few days of workouts with the team, it's hard even for him to say what his job will be. 

"To be completely honest, I don't care where they line me up," he said. "They could line up at receiver. I'm just happy to be here."

What makes Grugier-Hill (pronounced gru-gee-AY) such a fascinating prospect is that he's built like the type of linebacker-safety hybrid that seems to be popping up on depth charts all over the league.

A former linebacker at Eastern Illinois, where he was teammates with Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, Grugier-Hill measures in at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds. He blew up at his pro day before the draft, posting a 38.5 vertical leap and a 4.45-second 40-yard dash -- numbers plenty of receivers would be proud to boast. 

Though he's somewhat undersized to play linebacker, and though he's inexperienced as a safety, the Patriots saw him as a valuable commodity in the sixth round and took him with the No. 208 overall pick. 

"He’s an interesting player," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said after the draft. "He is kind of built like a safety, plays like a linebacker. [He] plays a lot down in the box, as a linebacker would. Physically he is probably built a little more like a safety.

"I think that part of his value to our team would be in the kicking game just based on the position he plays. And then defensively, probably just like a lot of guys, we’re just going to have to figure out what the best fit would be.

"I would say that the traits that he has of being smart, fast, tough, and a good tackler, those are things that we feel we will be able to find a way to utilize those, maybe in some different packages, or matchups, or situations, or whatever it happens to be. I think he’s got some things going for him but maybe a little less conventional than some other players and other positions."

When asked if he felt like his place in the league represented a shift in the game where teams are more inclined to use hybrid players, Grugier-Hill conceded what any fan of the game in this day and age would tell you.

"The game's about speed now," he said. "No matter what position it is, you have to be fast."

Even Belichick admitted that the game seems to be going in a direction where defenses want to play faster and are willing to shrink in order to accmplish that feat. 

"I think that you are definitely seeing a strong trend in the league towards corners that play safety or corner-type athletes that play safety, bigger safeties that play linebacker," he said following the draft. "Both of those are trends. We’ve always put a lot of premium on the passing game even going back to when we had Eugene Wilson, who played corner at Illinois, and started for us at corner for a couple weeks and then we moved him to free safety, but that was an advantage when teams went to the multiple receivers . . . 

"That was really, I’d say, pretty successful for us. Devin [McCourty’s] given us some of that, so has [Patrick] Chung. Devin’s a corner. Not that Chung is a corner, but he has corner qualities, he’s had some corner-type responsibilities, particularly in the slot, even going back to when Wes [Welker] was here, and he would cover Wes pretty competitively in practice sessions and things like that."

Though Grugier-Hill and Chung are both listed at 215 pounds, and though Chung's tackling ability makes him look like a linebacker at times, Grugier-Hill has plenty of work to do before he's considered near Chung's level as a coverage player. Should the team be able to harness Grugier-Hill's athleticism, though, and make him an effective defender in the passing game, that will carry plenty of value. 

"I’d say that has always been something that's, if you have a player that can do that, somewhat appealing," Belihick continued. "The other problem is if you get mismatched with the receiver against a safety who’s not a very good coverage player, then that can blow up in a hurry. Rodney [Harrison] was a guy . . . that was a very good coverage safety even though he was a big physical, and he played the run as well as anybody. He could also cover the run and that’s very unusual and that made him very special. You could literally matchup on anybody, receivers, tight ends, blitz him, play him on goal line. He could do it all. He was tremendous.

"I'd say, yeah, as the offenses have gotten more spread out, as the offenses have put more skill players on the field, as the tight ends have become more athletic and less of the conventional kind of power-blocking type guys, those matchups keep getting tougher and tougher. I’d say there’s definitely a movement towards safeties that can play corner or have some corner-like qualities to them and that extends to the linebacker level as well.

"You see less of the big run stopping Ted Johnson, Brandon Spikes type players. It’s just harder when the offense spreads you out and then they go fast and you can’t substitute and you’re stuck with whoever you have out there, out there. That creates some problems out there, too . . . Ends are playing tackle, safeties are playing linebacker, and corners are playing safety. It’s just kind of getting a little bit smaller in a lot of areas."

Perhaps the Patriots plan to shrink as the league has shrunk and use Grugier-Hill as an athletic linebacker. Or perhaps they're looking to buck that trend by employing him as a big safety.

Whatever they plan to do with him, he's open to it. 

"I don't really know what position [I'm going to play]," he said. "I'm not really focused on that right now. We have a long way [to go] before the season. Just learn the playbook and do my thing out here."

Pro day circuit shows Belichick in his element

Pro day circuit shows Belichick in his element

Bill Belichick is a teacher. His father was a teacher. His mother was a teacher. He is very much their son in that regard. 

The glimpses into Belichick's essence aren't as rare as you might think, but they still generate an inordinate amount of interest because he's arguably the best to ever execute the kind of teaching he's made his life's work.

Every time he takes several minutes to answer a conference call or press conference question thoughtfully, the hundreds of words found in the text of the transcribed answer typically create a stir on Twitter. NFL Films productions that show Belichick operating behind the scenes are devoured. Exclusive interviews, where he shares his insight on individual games and matchups, NFL Films productions that show Belichick operating behind the scenes are devoured. Exclusive interviews, where he shares his insight on individual games and matchups, make every installment of the β€˜Do Your Job’ series a must-watch.

Clips of Belichick on the practice field aren't necessarily hard to find, there just aren't many of them considering how many practices he's run over the course of his decades-long career. But thanks to more lax media policies at the college programs he visits for pro days, video of his on-the-field work pops up on a regular basis this time of year. They are mini-clinics dotting the internet. 

This is Belichick in his element. Even in the middle of a random university campus. Even with scouts, coaches and front-office people from around the league watching his every move. Whether he's coaching players one-on-one or three or four at a time, Belichick is imparting his wisdom on eager close-to-blank slates. All the while he's trying to evaluate how they're absorbing what he's giving them. Do they pay attention? How do they process information? Are they error-repeaters? 

It's a fascinating give-and-take between the 60-something coach trying to build a roster and the 20-something players trying to make one, some of whom hadn't yet hit kindergarten when Belichick won his first ring in New England. And he seems to enjoy it. 

Here's a quick look at some of what Belichick has been up to the last few days at Georgia, South Carolina and NC State.  



Patriots re-sign LB Marquis Flowers

Patriots re-sign LB Marquis Flowers

Linebacker Marquis Flowers is headed back to the Patriots on a one-year deal worth up to $2.55 million, according to his agent, Sean Stellato. 

Flowers, 26, a sixth-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2014, was acquired by the Patriots near the end of training camp last year for a seventh-round pick. 

More to come...