FOXBORO -- Obi Melifonwu has played just eight snaps as a member of the Patriots, but he's already drawn the attention of his teammates.
"He's freakin' huge," said Devin McCourty.
Standing at 6-foot-4, the Grafton, Mass., and UConn product is a rarity inside the Patriots safety meeting room. The next-tallest player in there for the past few seasons has been Duron Harmon (6-1). His combination of size and athleticism (4.4-second 40-yard dash, 44-inch vertical) got him taken in the second round by the Raiders last year, but he was released back in October.
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With a chance to scoop up a versatile athlete with raw physical ability, the Patriots signed him a few days later. Since then, he's made a good impression on both his teammates and his coaches.
"I thought he's done a great job, whether it's staying after with [safeties coach] Steve [Belichick], talking to myself, [Patrick] Chung or Du [Harmon]," McCourty said. "When he's out there, what we expect of him and what we need him to do, and what he expects of us and what we need to do to help him. I thought it was great, him getting out there last week being able to help us in different packages."
Bill Belichick said earlier this week that the little playing time Melifonwu received in Patriots sub packages against the Jets on Sunday was in some ways a reward for the work he's done to prepare himself since his arrival.
"He's a smart kid," Belichick said. "He's worked really hard to learn things on defense and in the kicking game. With any player that's on a roster, or any new player that's on our team, roster or practice squad, we just try to move them along and see what they can do, what they're ready to do.
"Based on our game plan and our game situation every week, that could affect their availability or opportunity as well. You never know. Even if a player is expected to play or not play, his role could increase or go from not playing to playing based on other circumstances. All of those guys do a good job of trying to be ready, staying on top of their assignments and the game plan. If they get the opportunity, then be ready to take advantage of it. Obi did a good job of that."
How Melifonwu factors into the Patriots plans for the remainder of this season remains to be seen, but he makes sense as a potential tight end matchup down the line. That has been largely Chung's role the past few years, but this season he's split some of those duties with McCourty and others at the linebacker level.
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It's an area that the Patriots would logically try to address. Going into the Patriots bye week, no defense had seen more passes thrown at tight ends in the red zone than the Patriots. Jonnu Smith of the Titans, Eric Ebron and Erik Swoope of the Colts, Trey Burton of the Bears, Jimmy Graham of the Packers and Austin Seferian-Jenkins of the Jaguars have all had different levels of success against the Patriots defense this year.
Whether Melifonwu can help the Patriots there this year, or beyond, is anyone's guess. But at the moment he seems to be fitting in just fine behind the scenes and on the practice field.
"He's able to go up there and match up on some tight ends, and we're talking about being undersized against them," McCourty said. "He lines up and it's like mano a mano. Same size. You see him line up next to Gronk and you're like, 'Dang, Gronk doesn't make this guy look little.' I thought he's brought a really good edge to our group."
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