When the New England Patriots selected West Virginia offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, his outlook was already unclear. Cajuste, after all, had missed the entire pre-draft process due to a quad injury that eventually forced him to undergo surgery.
He had to sit out his entire rookie campaign on the Patriots’ non-football injury list before returning to the team the following summer. But even when he did take the field, Cajuste found himself behind Jermaine Eluemunor and Michael Onwenu in the competition for the starting right tackle position.
Nevertheless, the Patriots kept him on their 53-man roster through early-September’s cutdown deadline. Unfortunately, he was again bitten by the injury bug: Cajuste missed back-to-back practices due to a knee injury and before the first game of the season was sent to injured reserve. While he would have been eligible to return after three weeks, New England decided to keep him sidelined for the remainder of the season again.
Now in his third offseason as a pro, Cajuste finally appears to be healthy. He participated in all 16 of the Patriots’ training camp practices, and also saw action in their first two preseason games.
“It feels good,” he told reporters during a media conference call after Monday’s session. “I’m just blessed to be back playing the game that I love. It feels amazing to be back out there. I enjoy every moment.”
Two weeks into preseason, Cajuste has a combined 70 snaps on his résumé — the first 70 in-game snaps of his career. He spent time at both left and right tackle during the games against the Washington Football Team and Philadelphia Eagles, and also was used as a member of the Patriots’ field goal and extra point protection unit.
He looked good and appears to have a realistic shot at earning the potential fourth spot behind projected top-three tackles Isaiah Wynn, Trent Brown and Justin Herron. Most importantly, though, he looked healthy.
However, Cajuste also was critical of himself on Monday.
“I’m nowhere near where I need to be. I still feel like I need to get better at a lot of things and will continue to do that day-in and day-out,” he said.
“I’m blessed to be back, playing football, but at the same time even though I just couldn’t get on the field I’ve been here for three years. Just being able to watch other guys and listen to coaching and take notes, studying. Even though I was on the sidelines I still took the mental reps, I still worked on how I can get better.”
Whether or not his work behind the scenes will pay dividends in the form of a spot on the 53-man roster, Cajuste has taken some big steps after spending both his rookie and sophomore years on the sidelines. His mindset along the way remained unchanged: taking his challenges one after the other.
“From Day 1 in camp just going against our defense, getting those reps, I tried not to focus on who we’re going against or what’s the task ahead. I was trying to take everything one day at a time,” he said.
“From the start of training camp to where I’m at now our coaches and our defense have done a great job of preparing me to get ready. It was a good feeling being able to battle with the Eagles last week, and I’m just trying to get better every single day.”
Heading into the preseason finale, it appears as if Cajuste has done just that.