Two days ahead of their Week 4 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the New England Patriots have made a change to their practice squad: as the club announced on Friday afternoon, linebacker Michael Pinckney was brought aboard to fill a spot that has previously been held by defensive tackle Xavier Williams.
A four-year starter at the University of Miami, Pinckney served as a weak side linebacker in the Hurricanes’ 4-3 scheme and appeared in 49 games over the course of his career. Along the way, he posted some solid numbers: he registered 267 tackles (42.0 for loss) as well as 14.5 sacks and three interceptions. Offering good play diagnosis skills and physicality, he was named to three All-ACC teams (honorable mention in 2017 and 2018; second team in 2019).
Despite his success at Miami, however, the 5-foot-11, 235-pound defender did not hear his name called during the draft. His limitations — a lack of range limits his usage off the ball — may have played a role in that, just like his injury history: Pinckney missed some time each season due to minor ailments before suffering a hernia and labrum tear in his hip that required surgery and forced him to sit out the pre-draft process.
The 22-year-old remained on the open market ever since, but was invited to a free agency workout earlier this week.
The workout apparently went well as he now has gotten a chance to join a team that is relatively light at the off-the-ball linebacker position. Ja’Whaun Bentley is the number one and defensive signal caller, but the depth behind him has not stood out so far: Brandon Copeland has seen inconsistent playing time on defense; Josh Uche is on injured reserve; Anfernee Jennings was a healthy scratch against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 3; Cassh Maluia is exclusively a special teamer so far; Terez Hall is on the practice squad.
Pinckney is obviously not an impactful presence right away, but he offers another layer of depth and provides some developmental upside.
With the youngster on board, as noted above, the Patriots decided to move on from Xavier Williams.
The veteran defensive tackle arrived in New England in late August and was added to the practice squad after his release on roster cutdown day. Williams was elevated to the active roster for the season opener but reverted back to the developmental team following the game. His Patriots career therefore ends — unless he returns, which is always a possibility — with one in-game appearance, a pair of tackles and 10 combined snaps on defense and in the kicking game.
All in all, Williams has played 45 regular season games and four playoff contests since entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2015. He has recorded 85 combined tackles, three sacks as well as three forced fumbles while spending time with the Arizona Cardinals (2015-17) and the Kansas City Chiefs (2018-19). The 28-year-old was part of the Super Bowl winning Chiefs last year, even though he did not appear in the title game and spent time on temporary injured reserve because of a high-ankle sprain.
The Patriots’ practice squad as a whole now looks as follows:
G Caleb Benenoch, TE/LB Rashod Berry, LB Tashawn Bower, TE Jake Burt, QB Jake Dolegala, LB Terez Hall, CB Michael Jackson Jr, DT Bill Murray, LB Michael Pinckney, K Justin Rohrwasser, G Jordan Roos, CB D’Angelo Ross, WR Devin Ross, DT Nick Thurman, WR Kristian Wilkerson, WR Isaiah Zuber
Under the Covid-19 amendment in the NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement season practice squad players can be elevated to the active game day roster for two games without having to go through the standard release/re-signing process.