Sixty-six names reside on the New England Patriots’ current offseason roster.
Among the most anonymous is Trevor Bates.
There’s often curiosity with the lesser-known. There’s promise in what has yet to be proven. That holds true with the 23-year-old linebacker from nearby Westbrook, Maine.
Bates traveled two hours up Interstate 95 to spend his college years in Orono. And by the time his career as a Maine Black Bear was over, the redshirt senior had filled it with 207 tackles, 35 tackles for loss, 19 sacks, 13 passes defended, three interceptions, two touchdowns, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a blocked kick all while becoming a three-time all-Colonial Athletic Association selection.
Though at 6-foot-2, 247 pounds – and against FCS competition – it was unclear just how Bates’ game would translate. Was he a future 4-3 linebacker? Was he a 3-4 pass-rush specialist? A core special-teamer? Bates had played defensive end. He had played in space. He had played in the kicking game.
Where that background left him was up in the air.
“Lacks the length desired at the outside linebacker spot, but has enough get-off out of the blocks to warrant a look as a situational rusher,” NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein noted in his scouting report. “Has to prove that he can rush against bigger, quicker tackles or we could see a team try him at an inside linebacker spot.”
Bates continued to make his NFL case in March of 2016, when he posted a 4.78 40-yard dash to go with a sudden 6.75 three-cone and 4.25 short shuttle at the Maine pro day. He tacked on 9-foot-10 broad jump and 33.5-inch vertical leap as well.
A little over a month later, the pre-draft process concluded and Bates found himself heading to a place in which he wasn’t previously invited: Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Indianapolis Colts had selected him at No. 239 overall.
“We got on him early. He was one of our top-30 visits,” then-Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said of Bates in his post-draft press conference. “We sent [linebackers] Coach [Jim] Herrmann out to Orono, Maine on some like 20-seat plane. I said if he likes him he must really like him. It’s not easy to get to Orono. Usually guys don’t even go in there. They scout at other programs that are four hours south of there. He really liked him.”
Bates checked in as the eighth Maine product to be drafted since 1990 – and the first since defensive back Kendall James in 2014.
“He’s got a motor on tape,” Grigson added. “We feel like he’s going to be an excellent special-teamer. He plays lights-out and he’s got position flex as well at the linebacker position. He’s a guy that can do a lot of different things for us.”
Bates’ smarts and instincts were highlighted by veteran Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis early on in training camp. But following four preseason appearances in which Bates stood up off the edge and aligned on special teams, the rookie seventh-rounder was waived and retained on the Indianapolis practice squad.
Bates went on to garner a 53-man promotion on Oct. 5 as starting inside linebacker Sio Moore was cut, only his time there would be brief. Bates played in one regular-season game for the Colts – logging 22 snaps on special teams in a win over the Chicago Bears – before again being placed on waivers on Oct. 13.
This time, he would not be back.
Following free-agent tryouts in Detroit and Foxborough, the ex-Colt ultimately signed to Patriots’ practice squad on Nov. 7.
Bates stayed through the rest of the Super Bowl LI campaign, while 28 others cycled through the nine scout-team spots surrounding him by year's end. He didn’t appear in a game for New England. He did, however, do enough to earn a raise from $6,900 to $18,000 per week. He did do enough to earn practice player of the week honors on four occasions.
So when the Patriots reached futures contracts with eight of 10 practice-squadders on Feb. 7, it wasn’t a surprise to see that No. 44 was one of them.
But it is a clean slate now – even if the depth chart still carries the versatile likes of Rob Ninkovich, Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy. Much remains to be seen from a player whose primary work at Gillette Stadium has taken place on the fields behind it. Much remains a mystery.
That's as good of a reason as any to keep Bates in the peripherals entering 2017.