Over their first five games this season, third-round draft pick Devin Asiasi served as the New England Patriots’ number two tight end alongside veteran Ryan Izzo. The youngster did not show up on the stat sheet even once, and was not employed on special teams, but he did receive regular opportunities within the offense: Asiasi played 81 of a possible 337 snaps through Week 6, a playing time share of 24 percent.
Then came Week 7, however.
The youngster was not listed on the Patriots’ injury report heading into the weekend, but he still popped up on the list of game-day inactives for the first time all year. Fellow third-round rookie Dalton Keene, meanwhile, made his NFL debut as the team’s second tight end option behind Izzo — and eventually ended up playing more snaps than the starter during New England’s 33-6 loss against the San Francisco 49ers.
So, what was the reason behind the switch at the position? Patriots head coach Bill Belichick talked about it during an appearance on WEEI’s Ordway Merloni and Fauria show on Monday, and explained the rational behind the decision to play Keene over Asiasi in pretty straight-forward terms.
“I think based on the practices that he deserved a chance to play,” said Belichick about Keene.
The Virginia Tech product had to miss early parts of the season due to a neck injury, and later was scratched in favor of the Izzo-Asiasi duo. On Sunday, however, he did not just make the game day roster but was also given an extended look: Keene played 24 of New England’s 52 offensive snaps and, as opposed to Asiasi over the first five games, also managed to come away with an reception which went for eight yards.
Of course, the question now becomes whether or not New England could choose to activate both rookies at one point. Belichick confirmed this, but pointed out that there would be a catch.
“Sure. That would require somebody else not being on the field, but yeah, definitely,” he said.
Based on this statement, it seems as if the Patriots do not plan to go into a game with more than two tight ends on their active roster anytime soon. This also means that there are essentially only two ways for the two-headed rookie attack to become a reality: Izzo either gets hurt or loses his standing on the depth chart through his in-game or practice performances.
As Belichick noted on WEEI, those personnel decisions are influenced by a variety of factors.
“Some of that’s based on practice competition, but some of it’s based on performance as well,” he said. “A guy goes out there and plays well, he’s going to continue to get opportunities to play. And the player, in order to gain those opportunities, has to perform well in the opportunities that he gets, which may be practice if only one guy’s active. So that would be his opportunity to play.”