The Patriots filled out their 90-man training camp roster Monday by signing a rookie defensive tackle — just not that one who was expected.
Reports emerged late Monday morning that the Patriots were about to sign former North Carolina Central nose tackle John Drew, who stands 6 feet 2 inches and weighs 333 pounds and passed a conditioning test Monday, according to a league source. In fact, Monday’s visit was Drew’s second workout with the Patriots in the last month, and had gone well.
But the Patriots reversed course Monday afternoon, instead opting to sign former Michigan State nose tackle Anthony Rashad White, who signed with Pittsburgh this offseason before being waived off injured reserve.
The Patriots and Drew’s agent both declined to comment on the matter. A team source said that Drew was never officially offered a contract, and the organization decided that White was the better choice for the final roster spot.
While a definitive reason was not given for choosing White over Drew, it may have to do with Drew’s arrest and conviction on a gun charge from January 2010, and Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez’s arrest last month on a murder charge.
Drew, then a freshman at Duke, and two teammates were dismissed from the team and barred from campus after they were arrested for firing a semi-automatic handgun into the air while in a parking lot behind a campus residence hall (no one was injured).
Drew and his teammates ultimately pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon on educational property and carrying a concealed weapon. All three were given a 45-day jail sentence that was suspended to 12 months on probation, plus a $500 fine and 140 hours of community service.
The three were barred from going on campus, and Drew, who played in 12 games for Duke as a true freshman, transferred to North Carolina Central, a Championship Subdivision school that allowed him to play right away instead of having to sit out for a season.
District Judge David Labarre chastised Drew and his teammates at their trial for “stupid conduct,” and Drew has not had an incident in the 3½ years since then.
Still, the Patriots likely are putting extra prudence into their decisions to sign players this offseason given the negative press generated by Hernandez and the multiple murders and gun incidents he is being investigated for.
The Patriots plan on keeping cornerback Alfonzo Dennard despite his recent DUI arrest — and conviction earlier this spring for assaulting a police officer — but he does not have a weapons charge on his résumé like Drew does. White, who is 6-2 and 330 pounds, does not appear to have an arrest on his record.
White began his college career at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College before transferring to Michigan State for three years, finishing with one sack and six tackles for loss in 16 starts at nose tackle for the Spartans. White suffered an unknown injury with the Steelers and was waived from the team two weeks after signing in May.
Drew, meanwhile, is busy lining up workouts with other NFL teams and hopes to sign somewhere by this weekend, when most teams begin training camp.
The Patriots are still looking for veteran help at receiver, even after releasing Donald Jones last week. A source told the Globe that former Cowboys and Jaguars receiver Laurent Robinson will be in Foxborough Tuesday morning for a workout. Previously, the Patriots worked out former Colts receiver Austin Collie and former Jets receiver Chaz Schilens in June.
Robinson, 28, has bounced between five teams since 2007, but had a breakout year with the Cowboys in 2011, catching 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns. He parlayed that into a five-year, $32.5 million deal with Jacksonville last year, but his season was derailed by a concussion and the Jaguars released Robinson in March.
Robinson worked out for the Jets Monday, and if he leaves Foxborough without a contract offer Tuesday, he has a workout lined up with the Lions on Wednesday.
Coach Bill Belichick is scheduled to speak with reporters Wednesday, his first availability since Hernandez’s arrest. Quarterback Tom Brady and other veterans are set to address the media Thursday, and practices start Friday.