Patriots' Roberts gets chance to prove he's more just a run-stuffer


Patriots' Roberts gets chance to prove he's more just a run-stuffer

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.

What Bill Belichick's pro day tour tells us about Patriots draft strategy

What Bill Belichick's pro day tour tells us about Patriots draft strategy

It’s one of the rites of spring. This is the time of year NFL fans across America overemphasize the importance of their team’s coach or general manager popping up at a particular program’s pro day. You can set your watch to it. 

Coach X showed up at University Y so you KNOW he wants Player Z!

The pro day circuit is just one aspect of the pre-draft preparation process for NFL clubs, though. The information gleaned from stops on college campuses through March and early April is, as Bill Belichick might say, just part of the evaluation mosaic. 

The tape matters. The combine matters. Private workouts matter. Official visits matter. Claiming a meeting or an interview between a player and a club at any one of these spots will dictate a draft-day match is foolhardy. 

Still . . . it's interesting to track teams’ whereabouts in order to see if any trends develop.

Here we'll lay out where the two primary players in the Patriots front office, Belichick and Nick Caserio, have been spotted over the last couple weeks since pro days kicked off. Their itinerary may be nothing but a sliver of a view into where the team's interests lay, but we’ll take that sliver with the understanding that it is what it is.


Belichick made his seemingly annual trip to the University of Alabama to catch up with old friend Nick Saban and see some of the college game's top prospects. The Crimson Tide could have more than a dozen players drafted, and most of their top prospects reside on the defensive side of the ball. Receiver Calvin Ridley, defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne shoild be long gone by the time the Patriots pick at No. 31, but there are plenty of other talented defenders they could have a shot at. Linebacker Rashaan Evans (6-foot-3, 234) would be an interesting fit for a defense that could use an addition to its second level. Defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (6-4, 297) is intriguing because of his versatility as a base end who could rush from the inside in sub situations. Safety Ronnie Harrison (6-3, 214) also seems like a Patriots type. Even punter JK Scott could be on their radar. 


Caserio headed to Wisconsin's pro day, where linebacker Jack Cichy posted a very strong short-shuttle (4.28 seconds) and three-cone times (7.10). He's an off-the-ball type who measured in at 6-foot-2, 234 pounds and is projected by to go on Day 3. The Badgers don't have quite as many pro prospects as Alabama, but they have seven or eight who could hear their names called on draft weekend. Corner Nick Nelson (5-11, 208) and edge defender Leon Jacobs (6-3, 230) were two of Wisconsin's best players, and would’ve been worth a look from the Patriots director of player personnel. 


Belichick kept a close eye on the defensive linemen participating in NC State's pro day Monday. Bradley Chubb is expected to be the first defensive player taken in the draft so the Patriots won't have a shot at him (which Belichick admitted to Chubb following the workout), but defensive tackle BJ Hill (6-4, 315) may have been of interest. He's thought of as a mid-rounder after a very strong showing at the Senior Bowl and a solid combine. Kentavius Street (6-2, 280) is really powerful as a defensive end and could be had toward the end of the draft. Belichick also reportedly spent some time watching backs Nyheim Hines (5-8, 197) and Jaylen Samuels (5-11, 233) run routes. 

Caserio, meanwhile, kept a close eye on the workout put together by Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside (6-2, 201). Our Mike Giardi put together a piece on Woodside, who tested well at the combine and is considered to have a good football IQ, earlier this offseason. Read it. Caserio was joined at Toledo by Patriots scout Patrick Stewart, who was also present for Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta's pro day.


Belichick went from NC State to South Carolina where he reportedly met with tight end Hayden Hurst for the second time. Hurst (6-4, 250), a walk-on who played two years of minor-league baseball, may be the first tight end taken in this year's draft. Linebacker Skai Moore (6-2, 221) was extremely productive for the Gamecocks, leading the team in tackles all four years of his career, which Belichick clearly appreciated. Moore told reporters after his pro day work out that he met with Belichick for an hour and that Belichick told him he's a great player. Belichick and Moore also met at the combine, Moore said.

So what can we make of Belichick and Caserio's stops thus far? We’re careful not to make too much of these stops visits, but here are some quick-hitting thoughts . . .

* They appear to want more information on the draft's second (or third) tier of quarterbacks. It should come as no surprise that the Patriots won't be in the running to select passers like USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen or Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield. But the group that includes Woodside, Lauletta and others -- perhaps Washington State's Luke Falk, whose pro day will be at Utah State on Mar. 28, Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph, and Western Kentucky's Mike White -- seems to be of interest.

* Are the Patriots looking for their next playmaker at tight end? Even with Rob Gronkowski on the roster (assuming he returns in 2018) the Patriots could use another pass-catcher at this spot. Their interest in Hurst is intriguing. If they pop up at South Dakota State's pro day on Mar. 30 -- home of Dallas Goedert -- then that might be an indication they are considering a running mate and heir apparent for Gronkowski. 

* Outside of offensive tackle, off-the-ball linebacker might be the biggest need the Patriots have not addressed via trade or free agency this offseason. It would come as little surprise if they opted for a rookie (or two) who play that position in this year's draft. Evans is among the draft's most talented at that spot, but there are some questions around the league as to whether or not he'd be the traffic cop that, for instance, Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower have been for the Patriots. Getting a closer look at Cichy and Moore would also seem to indicate that New England is taking a close look at a newer (smaller) breed at that spot. Belichick has long liked bigger linebackers, but as the speed of the game picks up perhaps he’ll be more open to going small(ish) here. The Patriots were represented at Viriginia Tech's pro day on Mar. 14 (home of top linebacker prospect Tremaine Edmunds) and it'll be interesting to see if they show up at Boise State (home of Leighton Vander Esch) on April 3. Belichick is reportedly headed to Georgia's pro day on Wednesday, where he'll have a chance to see athletic off-the-ball 'backer Roquan Smith and athletic edge player Lorenzo Carter. Either would immediately provide the Patriots front-seven with a shot of athleticism. 

* That Belichick has seen a boatload of talented defensive linemen at Alabama and NC State isn't a shocker. While they may not have a glaring need up front for 2018 — especially after trading for Danny Shelton and signing Adrian Clayborn — both Shelton and Malcom Brown could be elsewhere in 2019 if the Patriots don't pick up their fifth-year options. Trey Flowers is also headed into a contract year. 


Quick Slants the Podcast: Ranking the Patriots additions, are the Patriots better defensively, but worse offensively?

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Quick Slants the Podcast: Ranking the Patriots additions, are the Patriots better defensively, but worse offensively?

Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry go over the moves the Patriots have made this offseason and rank their favorite moves and what to expect from those players.

(1:00) Ranking the Patriots acquisitions so far.

(5:30) Will Danny Shelton or Jason McCourty have a bigger impact n the Patriots defense?

(13:00) What can Patriots fans realistically expect from Cordarrelle Patterson?

(16:00) Are the Patriots a better team now than they were at the end of the Super Bowl?

(17:00) What is the next position in need for the Patriots?

(23:00) How concerning is the tension level between Belichick/Brady/Gronkowski, when should Patriots fans start to panic?