When the Patriots kick off this afternoon, everyone will be watching Tom Brady, Dont’a Hightower, and Rob Gronkowski. But there are lots of players that fly under the radar. I wanted to focus on a few that I think will have a major impact on the team today and throughout the season.
James Develin, FB - The fullback, one of the most overlooked starting positions in all of sports. Every now and again one comes along that does things different, like Larry Centers, but mostly these guys are treated like a snow plow on a truck. They clear the road for the guys behind them to get all the glory. Develin is one of the best in the league, and, when he actually touches ball, he’s incredibly hard to stop.
David Andrews, C - Center is a position that just naturally gets overlooked. The tackles get the big money, and have to face some of the most athletic freaks in the game. The guards do all sorts of pulling(Andrews actually does a decent amount of pulling for the Patriots) and are generally considered more agile and better athletes than the tackles. That leaves the center in the middle as the forgotten guy. He’s actually the most important person on the line. He calls the blocking scheme for the play. He’s reading the defense, usually with the QBs hands up his butt, and calling out protection for passing and running plays. Not to mention, the hardest pass rush to avoid is one that comes from straight up the middle. Andrews is a captain for the second straight year this year, so he’s clearly respected by his teammates, even if he may not get the recognition he deserves from the casual fan.
Duron Harmon, S - One of the biggest signing for the Patriots last offseason was bringing Harmon back. A lot of people thought it was silly to bring back a guy who, they thought, just got back and didn’t let anyone behind him. It sounds silly, but being able to stay back and not let anything behind you is harder for most guys than you would think. Harmon’s ability to not make mistakes in the back end of the secondary is huge for the Patriots, and they proved that when they signed him to a 4 year, $17M deal last year. He’s also started getting more interceptions. Some, like the one in the Pittsburgh and the Super Bowl, is the result of him being near the play when it was happening and catching a batted ball, and some are him reading the play and getting there on a deep ball. Either way, his numbers are starting to reflect his importance to the team. He may not be talked about as one of the best safeties in the league, but he might be approaching that if he can build on what he did last year.
Joe Cardona, LS - I have a soft spot for the long snapper. I was the snapper in high school and the backup when I play in college freshman year. His ability to be on time and in the right spot with his snaps is vital to the process. Bill always talks about Cardona, Allen, and Ghost as a unit on field goals, and he’s totally correct. One of them screws up, and it’s most likely a miss. He also always seems to be in on the tackle if the punt is returned, showing off his effort and pursuit skills. An added bonus on top of a solid snapper. Cardona is also a graduate of the Naval Academy, and still serves in the military during the offseason.
Brandon King, S/LB - King is listed as a LB on the active roster, but he’s been listen at S too. Neither of those designations matter, because he is on the team to do one thing: play special teams. He’s an excellent kick coverage guy, and while Matthew Slater deservedly gets a ton of credit, you’ll see #36 around the ball on returns just as frequently as #18. With Brandon Boldin not returning this year, it’s going to be even more important that he is great in kick coverage.
Lawrence Guy, DT - People have been talking about the defensive line depth all summer, but one guy that has not been included in most of those conversations is Guy. He was a force in the middle last year, and should continue to be so this year. With guys on the outside that can get to the passer, and a guy like Adam Butler inside who can do the same, you need guys who are stout against the run. Typically, people mention Malcom Brown when talking about the interior defensive line, but I think Guy was just as important last year.
Hopefully, after reading this, you’ll start to focus not just on the star players, but also on the role players who make the Patriots great.
Pat is the host of the Weekend Warrior Podcast
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