Back in 2012, a kid from Alabama by way of Tennessee with a name that most New Englanders probably took a while to pronounce correctly got a new assignment: wearing the “green dot” helmet radio and relaying the defensive play-calling from the coordinator to the guys on the field. Oh, and making sure that everyone’s lined up correctly, in position, ready to execute their assignment, and making any kind of defensive adjustments that may come up depending on the offensive look the guys on the other side of the line of scrimmage show. Which may or may not be something you studied on film that week where one formation or one look may actually be a disguise for something else that you’ll have to snuff out and then adjust the defense to neutralize it. All before the snap.
No pressure, right?
Dont’a Hightower did his job just like you’d expect a first-round national champion linebacker from the premier SEC team in the country could do, and now, the Patriots are training another “mike” linebacker to fill those shoes.
Only this one barely got drafted, is a few inches shorter and doesn’t pack the mass of a prototype middle linebacker, and is only in his second season on the team.
Hey, if this coaching staff thinks Elandon Roberts can handle it - meaning they trust his mind and confidence under pressure in addition to his ability to stand up running backs like Jay Ajayi and Lamar Miller - who are we to argue?
Here’s what Bill Belichick had to say about grooming his second-year ‘backer to fill the shoes of Patriots legends like Tedy Bruschi, Jerod Mayo, and his teammate Dont’a Hightower (via the Boston Globe):
“He has a lot of experience and took a lot from last year’s season, so he’s done a good job with communication and being the signal-caller on defense,” Belichick said before Tuesday’s practice. “That’s been a big step for him. He’s a solid guy, works hard — a really tough kid.”
And Roberts sounds like he’s ready to take on the challenge like it was Joe Thomas:
“You are the Mike linebacker,” Roberts said. “When you are out there you have to earn the show. It’s on you. Get that across to the whole defense, make sure everybody is lined up right. It’s a big responsibility, but at the same time, it’s your job.”
"It's a big responsibility. At the same time, that's my job. That's part of what I do, so I'm going to do my job."
Back when Hightower was learning the Green Dot role, Bill Belichick was clear that it’s not something you get to do just because you’re a middle linebacker - there’s one player that gets the job, and a backup in case they get hurt, and usually, that’s pretty much it. It’s not exactly the fraternity that everyone gets into.
"We could do it. We’re only allowed to have one green dot on one player and then if that player wasn’t in the game, then we could put it on somebody else," Belichick said. "We use it with different people in preseason, so if we get to that point during the season, we've got other guys that have experience with it. Safeties, linebackers, we’ve used it on different people in practices and in preseason games just for the experience of it."
"I’d say in any given week, it probably is two (players) and then depending on who the third is, that may or may not be realistic," Belichick said. "It’s hard to practice more than two, I would say."
Like Belichick says, it’s hard to practice more than two players in the role, and just like Hightower, the Patriots are trusting that Roberts has the mental tools for the job in his sophomore season in the NFL.
And they wouldn’t give him the keys to the defense if he hadn’t earned it.