Each day, following Patriots training camp practice, we'll highlight one intriguing "long shot" to make the roster. What might that player bring to the table for Bill Belichick's team? Who's he competing with for a spot? And what does he have to do to make the team?
PREVIOUSLY IN THE SERIES:
FOXBORO - Ryan Izzo knows where his bread is buttered. The rookie tight end knew the day he was drafted how critical it had been for him to prove at Florida State that he was an effective blocker.
"I think it was huge," he said after hearing his name called in the seventh round. "I think the tape was out there. These past two years of me blocking my tail off and really putting my heart out there and my love for the game. Just my unselfishness to block [for] great backs and do anything for the team to win."
On Saturday, though, Izzo made the play of the day in what was a largely low-key practice. In a hurry-up period at the end of the workout, he was targeted with a pass from fellow rookie seventh-rounder Danny Etling. The ball was thrown behind Izzo, but he reeled it in with one hand and absorbed a jarring hit (likely accidental since defenders were not challenging passes all practice) over the middle.
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The rain at Saturday's session thinned out the crowd, and even though there were likely few in attendance who knew about the tight end wearing No. 60, that play garnered a reaction.
Izzo will need more of those types of standout plays - as a receiver or as a blocker - in order to have a crack at making the active roster. He happens to play a position that features the best in the game, and behind Rob Gronkowski, the other two active-roster tight ends from 2017, Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister, are back.
While Izzo's hands stood out at practice, he's likely more of an in-line option at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds.
"Pretty consistent player, a three-year starter, more of an on-the-line-of-scrimmage player, very tough," director of player personnel Nick Caserio said on draft weekend. "Midwest, Northeastern kid from New Jersey. He played in a good high school program, went down to Florida State...We’ve been kind of watching this guy here for the past couple of years and just a solid, strong, consistent football player."
Izzo probably isn't competing for a job with Jacob Hollister, who projects more as a receiving option at the position. But if somehow Izzo can show significant growth as a blocker, if he can prove over the course of the next month that he can be a reliable option in the offense, perhaps he'll push 2017 practice-squadder Will Tye and even Allen.
Set to make $5 million in 2018, Allen is the second-priciest tight end on the roster and was not a factor in the passing game last season. Allen was targeted 19 times in 2017 (none in the postseason) and caught 10.
Based on some of the plaudits thrown Allen's way lately from Bill Belichick, it doesn't seem as though the team has any intention of parting ways with him. Still, if Izzo can stack up impressive practices and preseason games, and if the Patriots are intent on getting out from under Allen's deal, maybe there's an outside chance - however slight - they go with the younger option.
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