FOXBORO -- Elandon Roberts knows what he's done in the running game.
He's spent chunks of the first half of his rookie season running through Pro Bowlers like Cleveland's Joe Thomas and Buffalo's Eric Wood to create high-impact collisions. He's been effective enough in that phase of the game since seeing his first significant action back in Week 5 that he had essentially started to platoon with Jamie Collins by the time Week 8 rolled around.
In the first half of that game, he was deployed when the Bills went with run-heavy looks. Collins was used, it seemed, when defending the pass was the priority.
With Collins in Cleveland, there's a role that's been left vacant. The obvious question that followed his departure was, can Roberts be as successful in sub situations as he has been in base? Can he compete against opposing passing games as effectively as he has against running attacks?
Some have speculated that the Patriots will have to use Barkevious Mingo or Kyle Van Noy in coverage because Roberts -- who measures in at 6-feet, 235 pounds -- won't be able to match up properly. The thinking goes that while Roberts has impressed, he may be little more than a run-stuffing linebacker.
The sixth-round pick out of Houston doesn't care much for that label.
"To be honest? At the end of the day, I'm out here trying to help my team win. I'm not really worried about what people think," he said. "That's everybody's opinion. I've never been a guy that gets deep into that. I really don't care. At the end of the day. I'm out here to do a job, and it's to do my job for this defense, and be able to communicate and have fun out there with my brothers. That's all it really is.
"When a running play is ran, I do my job on that. When it's a passing play. I'm doing my job on that. I can't predict when it's going to be a pass. I can't predict when it's going to be a run. All I can do is go out there and read my keys and do the best I can for my team."
In coverage over the course of the last four games, Roberts has allowed eight catches on nine targets for 60 yards. When he has allowed his assignment to reel one in, he usually hasn't let that assignment get very far. With more solo tackles than anyone else in college football last year, Roberts has a knack for getting ball-carriers to the ground, and this season he's given up an average of just 2.6 yards after the catch.
"For him the run game just comes naturally," safety Devin McCourty said. "He's a hitter. He's powerful. He's very explosive. And I think he's learning to use that in the pass game as well and how to cover, but it's a learning process. I think for him, the big thing is he's very eager to learn and come out and put in the work and do it every day. It's getting there."
Roberts knows he has a long way to go, and he's committed himself to studying the Patriots playbook as well as his opponents. In practice, if he's unsure of any detail, he makes sure to ask his coaches rather than let the normal flow of practice take its course.
He saw more than his fair share of coverage work in college, going against pass-happy offenses on a weekly basis. But this scheme is different and more complex than any he's had to handle before.
"He's athletic," McCourty said, "but I think for every young player, especially at that position, it's a learning experience as far as what we do in coverage just because, depending on who you're covering it [could be] a back or a tight end, but that could be Martellus Bennett, that could be Rob Gronkowski, that could be James White. I think no matter who you are, unless you got a couple of these linebackers that are special types of guys that can cover these types of players, it's hard. It's just different."
As far as his size goes, Roberts doesn't think that's a limiting factor when it comes to what he can do in the passing game. Though it may make guarding someone like Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham (6-foot-6) a challenge, Roberts is used to being on the wrong end of the tail of the tape.
"I don't think it is [a problem]," Roberts said. "I've been this size forever, man. I don't even think about it to be honest. The only time I talk about my size is when somebody brings it up. I think I'm kind of big. I think I'm kind of big, but I don't think about it. I can't change it. I've been this size. I don't really think about it. Really never did like that.
"When I'm down on the field, on TV, I look kind of big anyway so I don't really think about it like that. All I see is me out there trying to make a play for the team. If I'm defending somebody, I'm trying to get a stop for the team. That's what we're all trying to do. Size really doesn't matter."
McCourty seemed to agree.
"He's short, but does that mean he matches up better with Dion Lewis? You know what I mean? I don't know how much that [matters]," he said. "Like, I have to guard some of these tall tight ends. I wouldn't say I have ideal size to cover them. But I think for him, it's learning what he has that's a strength against those guys that he has to learn how to use.
"I think it's been different for the past couple weeks because we had Jamie in there so you had a different guy in there that was in pass that was really good in coverage. [Roberts] really hasn't had to do it as much. Whereas now some opening spots are different. Guys will have to step up and play that role. I think a lot of it you haven't seen. I think the only way to get better is to go out and do it."
Even if the Patriots want to use Mingo in sub situations against the Seahawks on Sunday night, there's only so much that they'll be able to plan for. As McCourty put it, "We can't say, '[Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell] Bevell, are you running or passing?!?' "
That means Roberts should have his share of opportunities to show people that he can be more than a run-stuffer. Even if he doesn't care what they think.