FOXBORO — Who needs Allen Hurns, Justin Hunter or Michael Crabtree when the Patriots can just throw Danny Etling into the wide receiver breach?
Etling, a seventh-round pick out of LSU in 2018 who was a not-very-impressive quarterback during training camp last season, is transitioning to wide receiver.
Thursday, during the first training camp practices of 2019 open to the media, Etling worked exclusively with the wideouts and also toiled on special teams.
Asked about the transition after practice, Etling put on a happy face, saying, “Everyone has a lot of different roles on this team and I’m no exception, so I’m just excited to continue to keep trying to find a different role for myself, doing what they ask me to do and learning from the leaders in front of me."
It takes about 45 seconds of talking to Etling to see why the Patriots might not want to break the kid’s heart and tell him the dream is over. He makes it obvious he’d crawl over glass then take a salt bath if the team just keeps him around. He’s clearly no dummy and — given his experience in the SEC and his approach — it wouldn’t be a surprise to think he’d at some point transition to coaching.
But this is not a budding Edelman. He ran a 4.7 40 at the Combine, which is fantastic for an offensive lineman. During practice, he didn’t look very receivery.
“I’ve not really played it, per se, but I’ve also coached it a lot being a quarterback and I understand offensive football and it’s helped me get a different perspective of the game itself,” he offered.
Etling’s quarterbacking relevance ran out when the Patriots drafted Jarrett Stidham in April. But he was still in a red jersey and throwing passes during minicamp (although he was taking special teams reps) so it wasn’t fully a done deal. Now that it’s public knowledge, Etling makes it sound like the team was using him in a variety of ways last year when he was on the practice squad.
“I’ve always kinda known, especially last season, that everything’s week to week and you’re going to have different responsibilities,” he said. “One thing’s for sure in football: There’s constant change, so you definitely want to continue to develop as many skills and talents as you can to help the team.”
Asked if he has leaned on Edelman for any advice, Etling went general.
“A lot of the leaders will help me with a lot of different things,” he said. “I rely on the older guys and the coaches and everyone has such a great mentality to help out as much as they can.”
I asked if Etling was disappointed to see the quarterbacking dream expire.
“I wouldn’t think so,” he insisted. “I love football. I love playing football and I’m out here in an NFL training camp playing for the Patriots and finding a new role for myself and getting to be coached by some of the greatest coaches and be a teammate to some of the greatest teammates of all time. I’ve really enjoyed being a part of this team and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to continue to do that and keep becoming a better football player every day. Whatever it takes to help the team out, I will do it to the best of my ability.”
There are two angles to this story. The kind one is to appreciate the kid’s effort, feel bad that he banged up against the ceiling of his quarterbacking talent and salute his willingness to keep fighting wherever he gets plunked down.
The other angle is to look at his presence as a wide receiver gobbling up a roster spot as par for the course for a team that has low-budgeted the wide receiver position in an almost laughable manner since the end of the 2017 season. Don’t N’Keal Harry me, either. The team is shoestringing it at wide receiver and tight end and Etling is a fairly decent example of that.
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