James Develin and Jakob Johnson saw 129 snaps on offense this fall. They saw 30 snaps on special teams. They saw the football in their hands on three occasions and left a significant mark without it.
The New England Patriots will now see how things look without a fullback.
Johnson officially joined Develin on injured reserve to begin the week.
But Patriots head coach Bill Belichick knows that not all fullbacks are ones in title. Not even in Foxborough.
“There’s not a lot of fullbacks in college,” Belichick said Monday on WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni & Fauria. “I’d say probably at least half of the fullbacks – or close to half of the fullbacks – in the NFL aren’t fullbacks. James Develin was a college linebacker, so there’s plenty of guys like that, too. And then there’s some other fullbacks that are kind of halfbacks, like the Patrick Pass variety. Or, Heath Evans was really a big back at Auburn and became a fullback.”
Develin played on the defensive side of the ball at both Brown University and with the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz of af2. The eventual Pro Bowler would transition to lead blocker while with the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League, and remained there through stops on the practice squads of the Cincinnati Bengals and later the Patriots.
And as witnessed in his rookie preseason as a member of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program, Johnson also has some linebacker in his past. The 24-year-old from Stuttgart, Germany checked in there and at tight end while with the Tennessee Volunteers.
It often takes a conversion. Sometimes it’s a Develin or a Johnson. Sometimes it’s a Pass or an Evans.
Throw a little bit of defensive linemen Dan Klecko, Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork in there, too, for posterity.
“Just the true fullback position, it’s not common to find those,” added Belichick. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t develop one, but I’d say not a lot of them are just sitting around out there.”
In last Thursday night’s 35-14 win over the New York Giants, attrition forced the Patriots into ‘11’ personnel with one running back and one tight end for the duration of the second half. The offense started the game heavy with two backs and two tight ends before Matt LaCosse exited with a knee injury and Johnson exited with a shoulder injury.
What changes now for New England?
“I wouldn’t say quite a bit. I don’t think we’ve had a fullback on the field over 30 percent of the time very often,” Belichick said. “Somewhere in there, like, I’d say 25-to-30 percent range. And some of that’s situational – goal-line, short-yardage and four-minute offense, things like that. Certainly, there’s a place for it and it’s been a key part of our offense. But there’s plenty of plays where we don’t have a fullback on the field, as well. If that’s what it is, that’s what it is. If we can work that out, then great. We’ll do what we feel like is best and try to figure it out.”