New England Patriots linebacker/safety Kamu Grugier-Hill played 39* snaps on defense against the New Orleans Saints and it became pretty evident how the Patriots viewed his contributions.
The official game book has him down for 45 snaps, but the player formation data only has him with 39. We’re going with the 39 snaps.
“It's pretty basic when he's out there doing that,” head coach Bill Belichick said about Grugier-Hill’s time on defense during Sunday’s press conference. “Again, it's building our depth. It's another guy that we'll see how he handles it, see what he can do. Maybe in passing situations he might end up doing that.”
Grugier-Hill, also known as KGH in these parts, was a key part of the Patriots passing defense late in the second quarter and into the second half, as the Saints called up 32 passing plays on his 39 snaps. That’s a crazy 82% of his snaps.
For KGH’s part, the Saints only picked up 9 yards on those seven rushing plays, which is a pretty good average, but it was clear why the Patriots wanted him off the field on first down.
While there were times that he made his way through traffic (#48)...
...he was washed out of the play when linemen got their hands on him.
KGH lacks the size necessary to stand up to linemen out of the linebacker position and was easily discarded on a handful of plays.
So Belichick made the active decision to keep KGH off the field on first downs and short yardage situations. The young linebacker saw some time on first down once the Patriots picked up a multi-score lead, when the Saints were more likely to pass, so he is currently a situational player.
As a coverage linebacker, KGH is still a work in progress. He was clean in his drops and active in covering the running back in the flat. He has a nice break on the ball when he’s able to come back to the play.
He struggled a little bit more when the Saints took advantage of him with match-ups. New Orleans flexed Travaris Cadet to the sideline to get KGH in traffic with defensive backs and receivers; Cadet made a play running to the sideline when KGH was caught in the traffic.
The Saints also caught KGH committed to defending the deep pass and had their back cut inside, spinning KGH in a circle.
It’s possible that KGH thought the back was going to use wide receiver a pick and wanted to go above the traffic. This is my speculation on how the Saints built off prior drives, but regardless it shows that KGH is still developing in how he diagnoses routes as a defender.
I think that KGH is going to have a lot of chances to grow in the defense because of his contributions on special teams. His 22 special teams snaps trailed only Brandon King’s 23 snaps, and that means a lot to Belichick.
Belichick said that special teams ability can be “90 percent” of the reason why a back-end player makes the roster over a competitor.
“It could be 100 percent if it's good enough,” Belichick added on Sunday. “It's just a question of how good it is relative to what the role is on offense and defense.”
While KGH is not a Matthew Slater or Brandon King or Nate Ebner, the three “100 percent” players on the roster, his defensive upside means that his special teams ability will likely keep him on the roster.
After the first preseason game, it’s clear what Belichick has in mind for KGH. The sixth round pick is a special teams player with a passing defense focus. He will continue to develop and will continue to receive opportunities because Belichick is interested in seeing what he can do.