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Linebacker Nicholas Grigsby leaves a mark on special teams in Patriots debut

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Nicholas Grigsby kicked off his Patriots stay with 11 snaps in the kicking game – and one big hit.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams-OTA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Nicholas Grigsby hadn’t played in a regular-season game since New Year’s Day.

So, if it looked like the newest New England Patriots linebacker had some extra gas in his tank as he charged downfield Sunday afternoon, it’s probably because he did.

Grigsby checked in for 11 snaps on special teams in the Patriots’ 23-3 win over the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. He lined up as a “5” next to Stephen Gostkowski on kickoff coverage, and manned the front lines on kick and punt returns for the likes of Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Danny Amendola and Bernard Reedy. And while his 2017 debut went without a tackle, it would be remiss to say it went quietly.

Former Patriots running back Travaris Cadet, convoying another familiar face in return specialist Brandon Tate, heard Grigsby loud and clear with 1:30 left in the opening quarter.

The block blow-up, which helped funnel Tate to no further than the Bills’ 21-yard line, was one way for Grigsby to leave a mark. It came in a phase No. 50 has cut his teeth since entering the league as a Los Angeles Rams undrafted free agent in 2016.

The Pittsburgh product spent his rookie season between the Rams’ practice squad and 53-man roster, appearing in the final six games exclusively on special teams. He saw 130 snaps altogether in that capacity for coordinator John Fassel, and the Patriots saw 23 of them firsthand in a 26-10 win over the Rams last December.

It was a sample size worth filing away. It just didn’t bring along any official statistics.

“Yeah, I thought at the end of the year last year for the Rams he did a good job for them,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of Grigsby in his press conference last Wednesday, via Patriots.com. “Not just in our game, but kind of that last – I don't know, third of the season – whatever it was, that he did a solid job for them.”

After two preseason appearances and a dozen tackles this preseason, Grigsby was waived by Los Angeles at the September cutdown. He joined the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad in the weeks that followed. And it was there that the 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker with 4.5 speed stayed until he was signed to New England’s active roster on Nov. 28.

“We saw that he was released at the beginning of the year this year and talked about him then,” added Belichick. “It didn't really work out at that time and we didn't have a roster spot. Anyways, so forth, but as time went along we got into a situation last week where we felt like adding him to the roster would benefit the team. But we've tracked him from college, to Pittsburgh, to the Rams, to here.”

In wake of core special-teamer Nate Ebner’s placement on injured reserve and linebacker Trevor Reilly’s concussion sustained versus the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots’ tracking had a purpose. There was a need for depth behind Kyle Van Noy, David Harris, Elandon Roberts and Marquis Flowers – and the room to fill it.

For how long is unclear. As an acquisition from another organization’s scout team, Grigsby must remain on the Patriots’ 53 for a minimum of three weeks. But the 25-year-old made an impression in his first one, and is under contract through 2018.