With James Develin headed to the injured reserve, rookie fullback Jakob Johnson will now be thrust into a key position in the Patriots offense. Johnson was called up from the practice squad Saturday to replace the injured Develin in New England's Week 3 matchup with the Jets.
Johnson isn't your typical undrafted rookie. Hailing from Germany, he became the first player from the NFL's International Pathways Program to be activated to a gameday roster. The NFL created the program in 2017 to give players coming from outside the United States a chance to develop on an NFL team's practice squad.
In April, the Patriots were one of four randomly selected AFC teams to pick an International Pathways player, so they weren't entirely sure of what they were getting in the former Tennesee Volunteer and Stuttgart Scorpion.
"First of all, no, he was not on our radar," Belichick said Monday. "I don't think we would have ever signed him. And when the players were kind of listed, there were a group of players that fell into this category, and we looked at that group.
"It was kind of like, 'Is there anybody here you want?' And so, based on some research and follow-up at Tennessee, really Butch [Jones] recommended him to me and we didn't really know much about the other guys," he said. "I can't say that we were excited to have him, but based on what Butch said, you know, felt like he was a good player to work with, would work hard, would really try to get better, was a good teammate and all of those things that he had showed at Tennessee."
For an undrafted rookie who made a training camp roster because he was picked from a select pool of unknown players, Johnson was far from guaranteed a roster spot. But in New England, if you showcase the right qualities and prove it on the field, Belichick will eventually find a place for you.
"I don't think anybody ever envisioned him being on the roster at that point, or even being on the practice squad, to tell you the truth," he said. "But he continued to get better, and certainly his physicality and his toughness showed up in the preseason games and in the preseason practices against Detroit and Tennessee.
"What he's done has been remarkable,' he said. "And in a relatively short period of time, but he works extremely hard. He's one of the first players here every morning, he studies his note cards. You see him sitting in the dining room just studying note cards, just going over his plays. He puts literally every ounce of energy he has into this job and our team, and he's totally earned everybody's respect. And for that, you know, he's a young player, he's got a long way to go, there's a lot of room for improvement, but he works very hard at it."
Losing Develin will certainly hurt the Patriots, especially in the running game. And as Phil Perry notes, this is a rushing attack that's been lagging behind despite New England's three consecutive blowouts to start the year. The offense hasn't needed to lean on the running game to set up their throws as much as last season, but that won't last forever, especially as the schedule starts to toughen up.
For the Patriots, injuries along the offensive line and now in the backfield have hindered their ability to effectively run the ball. So while the mystery of an unknown backup stepping up into a key role creates an uneasy feeling, it appears Belichick and Johnson's teammates are excited to see how his development transfers to the playing field.
"It’s great to see that hard work still gets you somewhere in life, especially in this profession," Matthew Slater said. "And I think that’s been Jakob’s story since he’s been here. Just putting his head down and working as hard as he possibly can to get better."
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.