While the New England Patriots remain undefeated seven weeks into the regular season, they already had to suffer some major personnel losses up to this point. Even before the season was kicked off, starting center David Andrews was ruled out for the year and placed on injured reserve after blood clots were discovered in his lungs. Just a two weeks later, fullback James Develin joined him because of a neck injury.
Develin is eligible to be reactivated off the reserve list but the expectation at this point is that the final IR-return spot — the Patriots already designated first-round rookie wide receiver N’Keal Harry to take the first one last week — will instead go to left tackle Isaiah Wynn. In turn, the 31-year-old is projected to end the year on the sidelines just like Andrews and other key players such as kicker Stephen Gostkowski and special teamer Brandon King.
Despite not being in a position to help the team on the field, however, both veterans have been able to continue leaving a mark on the Patriots even while on injured reserve: Andrews and Develin have both traveled with the team, and spent significant time on the sidelines and in the meeting rooms. Earlier this week, New England head coach Bill Belichick acknowledged their presence and coach-like role on the team.
“James has done a great job for us; so has David Andrews,” said Belichick during a press conference on Wednesday. “Both of those guys have really been outstanding with the off-the-field leadership that they can give. They both have a lot of experience they can relay to the guys. They’ve played against a lot of these individual players who are on some teams that we’ve played against and have been very helpful there.”
“They’ve been very helpful to me just as another kind of perspective on where we are from what they see. They see things. They’re very mature,” continued the Patriots’ head coach about the two veterans. “I wish they were both out there on the field, but they’ve done all they can do and contribute a lot on a daily basis and I’m personally very appreciative of what they do for the team and what they’ve done for me personally.”
Both Andrews and Develin are among the leaders within New England’s locker room. Seeing them take a proactive approach to their stints on the injured reserve list does therefore not come as too big a surprise: they have gathered considerable knowledge and experience since joining the team in 2015 and 2012, respectively, and — as Belichick pointed out — bring a unique perspective to the entire operation.
Monday night’s game against the New York Jets was a perfect example of that. With both Develin and his backup, Jakob Johnson, now on injured reserve, the Patriots had to turn to a fullback-by-committee approach that included backup offensive lineman James Ferentz and linebacker Elandon Roberts. Both men served as the lead blockers for Sony Michel at one point, paving the way for two of his three touchdown runs on the day.
“There’s two guys that really didn’t play that position that played it last week so that’s an example,” said Belichick about Develin being instrumental in helping prepare the two men for their role. “But there’s a lot of plays where [...] when you’ve played against a guy and have had that kind of experience against him that you can impart that experience to a teammate. There’s a lot of little things.”
“There’s a million different conversations over the course of the day that those guys have that I’m not a part of, but I know in general the feedback is very positive,” continued Belichick when speaking about the impact the injured veterans have on the rest of the team. “For what they give us and what they put into it, they’re not in the way, they don’t try to do too much, they’re a help and they are. They’re very helpful.”