ATLANTA – Stephen Anderson’s favorite route is called the middle route.
The outside receivers run curls by the numbers. The tight end takes what’s left between the hashes. And, according to Anderson, he goes about a dozen yards and works back to the quarterback in any kind of direction.
“I like that route because you can be as creative as you want,” Anderson said Thursday. “A good route-runner is a creative route-runner. A good route-runner disguises his routes as something else. I can make the middle route look four different ways. I can make it look like a post. I can make it look like an out. I can make it look like a deep over. I can make it …”
Look like a seam?
“I mean, in a way like a seam,” Anderson politely replied. “That route allows me to use my creativity – and obviously this is based on how the defender is playing – but it allows me to be creative. And in my mind, there’s no way you can be covered on that route.”
There is no recent game film of Anderson running the middle route. The 26-year-old hasn’t appeared in a game since the preseason. He was a Houston Texan then. He wasn’t by Sept. 1.
The Texans waived Anderson after 28 games, 36 receptions, 435 yards and two touchdowns. The former Cal walk-on and 2016 undrafted signing went unclaimed and joined the New England Patriots’ practice squad later that week.
There Anderson remained for the next 124 days.
“It was an interesting experience,” he said. “I was in Houston before this and I played. I got a significant amount of snaps, even started the last five games. Going from playing a lot to the practice squad really kind of left an interesting feeling in my stomach, because a lot of the guys who are on the practice squad haven’t really had like a taste of playing and I had two. I did play in the playoffs my rookie year, so it was hard to take a step back. It was definitely hard to take a step back.”
On Jan. 8, the Patriots promoted Anderson to the active roster as the corresponding move to fellow tight end Jacob Hollister going to injured reserve.
Anderson has been inactive for both the divisional round and AFC title game since then.
“I’m really excited to get back on the field whenever that is,” said the 6-foot-2, 230-pound target, sitting on a Super Bowl LIII depth chart featuring Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen. “I got a lot to prove. I’m a different player from my last regular-season game with Houston, there’s no doubt about that. I’ve been getting better, I’ve been working on my game. And just like college, just like being undrafted, I got a chip on my shoulder. I got the fire for this game because, at any point, I could have given up and people would have said, ‘That’s fine. That’s OK. At least you made it from being a walk-on and all that stuff up until this point.’
“I got a lot to prove. Patience is kind of a big word that kind of came up for me last year, and I just got to stay patient and it’ll happen.”
More middle routes will follow.