FOXBOROUGH - Bobby Carpenter had seen Bill Belichick’s press conferences. He was friendly with a few Patriots players. He watched some of their games on television.
But that was about all Carpenter knew about the team he signed with in April.
Carpenter has zig-zagged across the country throughout his NFL career. Dallas made him the 16th overall pick in 2006 out of Ohio State. St. Louis traded for him in 2010, then cut him four months later. A stint with Miami lasted 42 days. He lasted longer with Detroit, nearly two full seasons.
Now, in New England, Carpenter is one of 11 linebackers.
“It’s been exciting,’’ Carpenter said Thursday, after Belichick canceled the Patriots’ final minicamp practice. “We have a great team atmosphere. I was very pleased with how great the locker room was. We’ve got a tremendous group of players here. Not only that, they’re great people, so it’s been easy to get acclimated.’’
Carpenter, 28, immediately found a familiar face in linebackers coach Pepper Johnson. Johnson’s son Dionte was Carpenter’s teammate with the Buckeyes, and Pepper Johnson is a 1986 Ohio State graduate who won two Super Bowls with the Giants.
“He’s done a great job parlaying that, helping coach guys in a manner that really pertains to being on the field,’’ Carpenter said. “Very few coaches were as successful players as he was, so I think he brings a unique aspect to that environment of coaching.’’
The admiration is mutual.
“He’s a workaholic,’’ Johnson said. “He’s constantly going. You have to slow him down on the field. I don’t want to slow him down. He goes constantly. He’s going to be a plus for us.
“He’s already been a plus.’’
Distinguishing himself in games has proven more of a struggle for Carpenter. He never found a groove with Dallas, instead becoming known more for the derisive nickname “Barbie Carpenter,’’ given to him by tackle Marc Colombo when the Cowboys were filming HBO’s “Hard Knocks’’ series in 2008.
Carpenter’s shining moment came in Week 4 last season, when he returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown that propelled the Lions to a 34-30 win over Dallas.
Otherwise, the highlights have been sparse. He saw action in all 16 games last season but finished with just 29 tackles. Still, he earned high praise from his new coach.
“Bobby’s been here all spring,’’ said Belichick. “He’s worked hard. Good athlete, smart guy, has some experience.
“He’s done some different things in his career - played inside, played outside, played in sub, played in the kicking game.
“We’ve asked him to do some different things and he mentally, physically, and experience-wise has looked pretty comfortable doing those.’’
Carpenter should be in the mix at strong-side linebacker, in a group that could include rookie Dont’a Hightower. With Gary Guyton now in Miami, New England lacks a linebacker with pass-coverage skills. Carpenter could fill that role.
“You’ve got a lot of guys on this team who can do a lot of things,’’ Carpenter said. “Whatever the coaches can scheme up and find what fits our talent the best, that’s probably what we’ll do, and hopefully it’ll work out pretty well.’’
Before training camp begins, Carpenter plans to return home to Columbus, Ohio, to spend time with family.
“You want to obviously stay sharp mentally,’’ he said. “But also you want to stay in shape physically. I think these next five, six weeks are going to make a big difference going into training camp. How well you can prepare, what you’re doing physically, what kind of shape you’re in, how strong you are.’’
And he’ll work to make his latest NFL stop a lasting one.
“You always prepare to come out every day, work as hard as you can, maybe hope for the best,’’ Carpenter said.
“But hope is not a strategy.’’