FOXBOROUGH — The three weeks when Alex Silvestro was sitting by the phone last year, waiting to see if the Patriots needed him, couldn’t have been longer.
He had gone through the grind of training camp with the team but didn’t make the final round of cuts.
Coach Bill Belichick told him they wanted him to hang around.
When he got the call letting him know the Patriots wanted to sign him to the practice squad — and that he needed to be at the airport in 45 minutes — he didn’t hesitate.
It was the kind of opportunity he is always looking for. And he knows opportunities seldom make appointments.
He didn’t see it coming in February when the Patriots, riddled with injuries on the defensive line, signed him the week of the Super Bowl.
He had no idea what to make of the opportunity the Patriots offered him this season when they invited him to camp as a tight end.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” said Silvestro, 23. “You’ve just got to go out and know that you gave it your best every day and just go out whatever day it is and work hard.”
He has been on the razor’s edge before when it comes to roster decisions. It’s not something he focuses on, even now as he battles to make the 53-man roster. He has gotten more reps recently with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez sitting out practice. And he made a dazzling grab in Monday’s workout.
But he is one of six tight ends, and the Patriots likely won’t keep more than three, so he is almost naturally on the outside looking in. His optimism, however, and his willingness to work are relentless.
“Obviously, it’s the business we’re in,” he said. “Every practice I go into, I try to take it as hard as I can. Having that happen [being cut last season], being a football player your whole life, you’re kind of upset, you’re bummed, you want to be out there playing, but you never know what could happen.
“I didn’t take it as, ‘Oh, I’ve got to do better this year.’ I’m taking it as, ‘As long as I keep coming out and working as hard as I can and did everything I could do then, I’ll be happy with my performance regardless of what happens.’ ”
His Super Bowl call-up seems like it was ages ago.
“Obviously at the time I was happy,” he said. “But now that’s over with. That was last year. Whatever happened happened. Now I’ve got a lot to learn about this year, a lot to change up and just go out and try to work hard each day.”
The change from last season couldn’t be much more drastic. Silvestro, who was a defensive lineman in college at Rutgers, hadn’t played tight end since high school.
“At first, it kind of just came out of nowhere,” he said. “I didn’t necessarily think it was a prank as much as I was shocked or surprised. But I was like, ‘All right. It’s an opportunity. I’m going to take it to the best of my ability and work on it.’ ”
When the Patriots thought it over in the offseason, they figured the move was the best thing for him.
“He’s worked really hard and tried to apply his craft and learn his craft,” said director of player personnel Nick Caserio. “He was a defensive player but he’s tough, he’s smart, he’s got good size, he’s got good playing strength.
“He actually did a pretty good job for us last year in practice on the scout teams in that [tight end] role, so we thought that it was something that he’d be able to handle. He’s going out there, he’s been out there every day, he’s been on the field, he’s working hard at it and we’ll see how it all unfolds.”
Still, it’s not exactly like riding a bike.
“It’s like riding a bike on a freeway,” Silvestro said.
The complexities of the tight end position — especially the way the Patriots have come to use it — aren’t lost on Silvestro, and the degree of difficulty he is facing isn’t lost on Caserio.
“There’s so much that goes into that position — blocking, receiving, catching, splits, alignments, blocking a certain technique, whether it’s a six-technique, whether it’s a seven-technique, whether it’s a nine-technique,” Caserio said.
“But you just try to establish your foundation through the spring in training camp and work on those techniques in a real live setting, whether it’s in practice or whether it’s in the game. But that position, there’s really a lot that goes into that position because you’re really involved in every phase of the game — run blocking, pass protection, and the passing game.”
There’s a different teaching point every day, Silvestro said. He doesn’t expect to be perfect. He just tries to take them all in, get better at each one, and make progress throughout camp.
If there’s anything he has learned, it’s that opportunity is unpredictable.
“You never can allow yourself to get comfortable,” Silvestro said. “You’ve just got to keep going out and working. Anything can happen. You’ve just got to work.”