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Sophomore defensive tackle Sam Roberts has turned practice performance into game opportunity

The sophomore defensive tackle made his 2023 debut on Sunday, and a positive impression.

NFL: AUG 10 Preseason - Texans at Patriots Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When the New England Patriots defense first took the field against the New York Jets in Week 3, Sam Roberts was part of the lineup. For the young interior lineman, this was a new experience: he had not started a game since his arrival the previous offseason.

Roberts ended up playing just 18 of 63 defensive snaps on the day, but it still was a successful outing for him. Not only did the Patriots beat their division rivals 15-10, he also was credited with a quarterback hurry and helped the defense hold the Jets to a mere 38 yards on 22 rushing attempts.

Patriots defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington was encouraged by Roberts’ performance, and on Tuesday explained how his practice work laid the foundation for his 2023 in-game debut.

“Sam, just going back to last year, has done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Covington said. “He’s a guy that comes in early, stays late; a guy that work’s hard, that tries to get better every day. And really, for us, you always earn the right to play through your practice and your performance on the practice field. And that’s a guy that does his job on the practice field every day.

“He’s improved every week, and whenever his opportunity is available — it was available this past week — he took advantage of it. That’s what we ask him to do. And if we ask him to do that again this week, I know he’ll be ready to do the same thing.”

Roberts originally joined the Patriots as a sixth-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft out of Northwest Missouri State. A two-time first-team All-MIAA selection and one-time winner of the Cliff Harris Award, he saw limited action as a rookie.

The 6-foot-5, 300-pound defender played only 40 defensive snaps over three games, and 10 more in the kicking game. In total, he was inactive for 12 of the Patriots’ 17 contests in 2022.

Despite his limited exposure in Year 1, Roberts was able to make the famous sophomore jump this summer and establish himself as an able run defender and backup D-lineman. He was a healthy scratch each of the first two games of the season, but on Sunday against New York was called upon to help the defense.

For Covington, that might have been a sign of things to come.

“I love working with him. He’s done a great job for us,” he said. “And I think, again, it starts on the practice field for him, where he’s shown us and he’s proven on the practice field that he’s game-ready and can compete in the game. I think he did that on Sunday.”