Friday, August 19, 2016

Patriots' Derby Tightens Grip On Roster Spot

If Patriots' fans didn't have A.J. Derby on their 53-man roster projections before the preseason schedule began, perhaps they should now.

Considered a typical "Redshirt Sophomore" by those who are familiar with the way Patriots' head ball coach Bill Belichick handles his personnel, Derby has exploded onto the scene in Foxborough with two impressive outings, totaling nine receptions in 11 targets in games against the New Orleans' Saints and Chicago Bears, for 118 yards and a highlight reel touchdown grab.

Not bad for a guy who has exactly nine college games at the position on his very limited resume.

Derby is, by trade, a quarterback.  He has been training his entire life to be a signal caller, but after spending a couple of years riding the pine at Iowa, then having been switched to linebacker, Derby left the alma mater of his descendants, attending Coffeyville Community College in Kansas in order to play quarterback at the college level...

...then accepting a scholarship to Arkansas in his senior year, but switching to tight end just to get on the playing field since the quarterback position was ably-manned, and ended up being a raw but talented tight end, who actually got to start one game at quarterback against Rutgers, going 19 for 36 against the Scarlet Knights, throwing for a score and a pick.

But his ticket to the NFL was punched as a tight end by Belichick, who knows a thing or two about elite tight ends, and saw enough in Derby to draft him in the sixth round last season, despite him missing the last two games of his college career with a knee injury that required surgery to repair.

How very convenient, as Belichick was able to expose the 6' 5", 265 pound Derby to waivers at the end of camp, then revert him to the team's IR, where the coaching staff worked with him on the playbook and his technique while the strength and conditioning coordinator helped him to both rehab his knee and to strengthen his lower body.

The result of his "redshirt" year has been on full display this preseason, and it makes Belichick look like a genius.  Again.

Though the size of a traditional in-line tight end, Derby is a hybrid pass catcher known in some circles as a "Joker" tight end, meaning that he is too fast for linebackers to cover and too big and strong for most defensive backs.

Sound familiar? It should to Patriots' fans as the team was already rich with them in the persons of All World tight end Rob Gronkowski and like-skilled newcomer Martellus Bennett, whom we have seen line up anywhere from off tackle to the slot to split wide, so it seems almost unfair that New England has introduced yet another of these rare beasts to their already loaded arsenal, but that's what the forward-thinking Belichick has done for years, at almost every position... the point that his 2016 team is stacked at almost every position, making them the odds-on favorite to win their fifth Lombardi trophy.

If one were pressed to label Derby's position, it would have to be in the "move" tight end position, where you would find him more in the slot or split wide than on the end of the line, because his blocking technique needs refinement, but he has worked himself into the position for not just making the team as the third tight end, but also for significant playing time.

If Derby continues to grow as a pass catcher this preseason, it will obviously impact the roster, but more for the wide receiver corps than any other unit on the team - which is good, because besides the obvious roster locks - Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell - the other receivers vying for a spot on the fifty-three have done little, if anything, to distinguish themselves.

Though his separation and route running have been pristine, two plays from the Patriots' 23-22 win over the Chicago Bears stand out, demonstrating his skill set and toughness.

The first was his touchdown catch, lining up in-line and getting a clean release up the seam, Patriots' starter Jimmy Garoppolo hitting him in stride between two closing defenders, who sandwiched Derby after the catch, and the second, a hanging floater along the sideline from backup signal caller Jacoby Brissett that Derby had to climb a ladder to go get, coming down just in time to take the football equivalent of an uppercut...

...managing to stay inbounds, then bouncing to his feet and acknowledging his teammates accolades as they all went nuts in response to the play of the night.

Of course, Derby isn't going to unseat either Gronk or Bennett, but after the demonstration he's put on thus far in the preseason, there is little doubt that Belichick knew what he was doing when he selected Derby with a lowly sixth round pick in last year's draft.


  1. "the other receivers vying for a spot on the fifty-three have done little, if anything, to distinguish themselves."

    As I said in another article response to this CLOWN Michael Hamm; Aaron Dobson has been INCREDIBLE throughout the summer camp ... AGAIN this year. That statement above by this know-nothing is RETARDED.

    Michael Hamm; I'd suggest that you switch to "reporting" on bowling or knitting or something you might know just a little about.

  2. Maybe write about stuffing your stupid looking pie-hole with burgers and tacos.