The mandatory phase of the New England Patriots’ offseason workouts is over – at least until training camp starts in late July – and we have re-entered the quieter parts of the NFL calendar.
However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop. After all, by late August, each team has to start making its roster cuts. Until then, players have to secure their spots on the team; they need to do their jobs (well) or someone else will.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots on the 2016 New England Patriots. Today, we’ll continue the series with linebacker Rufus Johnson.
Name: Rufus Johnson
Jersey number: 59
Size: 6’5, 280 lbs.
2015 review: The Patriots originally signed Johnson, a 2013 sixth round draft pick by the New Orleans Saints, to a reserve/futures contract following the 2014 season. Despite being out of football in 2014, he had a very good training camp and preseason – he finished with five tackles, a sack and a quarterback hit – and made New England’s 53-man roster as a depth option on the defensive edge.
Johnson was inactive on opening day but made his NFL debut the following week against the Buffalo Bills. He played 13 snaps in New England’s 40-32 victory and registered one tackle. Johnson was a healthy stretch the next two weeks before missing the Patriots’ games against the Indianapolis Colts and New York Jets due to an aggressive stomach virus.
As a consequence of the virus, New England placed Johnson on the Non-Football Injury list on October 28, thus ending his first year in Foxboro.
2016 preview: Following the 2015 season, Johnson became an exclusive rights free agent but Patriots offered him a one-year tender sheet. Johnson signed it and will therefore compete for a spot on New England’s 53-man roster this summer.
While he is listed as a linebacker, Johnson, as has been the case in 2015, will likely see most of his practice and playing time on the defensive edge. Therefore, he faces competition for one of the backup spots from second-year players Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom. Johnson outplayed both of them in last year’s preseason and, in order to make the team, will have to do so again this summer.
After all, the Patriots already have three edge defenders as near-roster locks: Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich and Chris Long. If you add Shea McClellin to this group, there are not a lot of spots left. This means that Johnson has to perform and improve – not only on defense but on special teams as well – in order to beat out his competition.
If he is able to do that, he might very well find himself on the team. If not, the practice squad is still an option as Johnson has only one accrued practice squad season in the NFL.
The Patriots have had a lot of depth and talent on the defensive edge in 2015. They have a lot of depth and talent on the defensive edge in 2016 as well. Therefore, to survive roster cuts and earn a role on the team, Johnson has to do this year what he did last: have a strong training camp and preseason. Time will tell if he can do that.