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New England Patriots roster breakdown: #86 TE A.J. Derby

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After spending his rookie season on injured reserve, Derby tries to get his career going.

NCAA Football: Arkansas vs Texas A&M Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots‘ 2016 training camp is underway. Players fight for practice repetitions and playing time to earn one of the 53 spots on the roster. They have until late August, when each team has to start making its roster cuts, to secure a role.

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 tight end A.J. Derby.

Name: A.J. Derby

Position: Tight end

Jersey number: 86

Age: 24

Experience: 1

Size: 6’5, 255 lbs.

2015 review: The Patriots selected quarterback-turned-tight end A.J. Derby in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL draft (pick #202). However, the Arkansas product was unable to participate in spring practices due to the fallout of a knee injury that originally occurred during the then-first year tight end’s 2014 senior season.

Derby returned to the practice fields in time for training camp. While he did partake in the first session, he missed the subsequent four for undisclosed reasons before getting waived with an injury designation in early August. Derby cleared waivers and reverted to New England’s season-ending injured reserve list, where he spent the rest of his rookie campaign.

2016 preview: Derby has returned to practice this spring and appeared to move well and without any limitations. Him staying healthy and getting on the same page with the quarterbacks is paramount if he wants to make the Patriots’ deep roster and survive the battle for one of the backup tight end spots.

The 24-year old has the advantage of already having a year in New England under his belt, something no other tight end but Rob Gronkowski can claim. If Derby can build upon this experience and translate his knowledge of the system to the field, he has a solid chance of earning one of a maximum of two spots behind Gronkowski and fellow roster lock Martellus Bennett.

So far this training camp, Derby has looked good especially as a pass catcher. It remains to be seen whether or not he can continue to improve and consequently earn a roster spot. As of right now, and with major competition Clay Harbor still on PUP, he appears to have the inside track to earn one. But even if the second-year player fails to do so, his tenure in Foxboro might not be over just yet. After all, he is still eligible to join the team’s practice squad.

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After spending his rookie season on the sidelines, A.J. Derby has looked solid in his return to the field. While he still has limitations as a blocker, he has looked good catching the football and might be able to carve out a niche as a role player. He just has to continue working on his growth as a tight end.