FOXBOROUGH – Time and again, Bill Belichick has noted that a Patriots player saw his playing time with the offense or defense increase thanks to his performance on special teams.
Rookie linebacker Deontae Skinner could become one of those players.
Skinner, a Mississippi State product whom New England signed as an undrafted free agent, was a three-year starter for the Bulldogs at outside linebacker, but he also embraced the opportunity to contribute in the third phase of the game.
“I love special teams. You get to show the coaches what you can do … it makes you more valuable,” Skinner said on Thursday afternoon, adding that he played on the kickoff, kickoff return and punt teams.
For an undrafted guy trying to make the roster, that’s a good mentality to have.
Measuring in at 6-foot-1, 250 pounds at Mississippi State’s pro day, Skinner certainly endeared himself to the coaching staff during his time in Starkville. Last fall, Bulldogs defensive coordinator Geoff Collins got choked up talking about Skinner, calling him “the most favorite player that I’ve ever coached in my entire career.”
New England certainly needs depth at linebacker, especially with experienced players like Brandon Spikes (Buffalo) and Dane Fletcher (Tampa Bay) now with other teams, but Skinner still has to put in the work to show that he belongs.
He had no expectations on where he might be drafted, and arrives in Foxborough ready for whatever comes his way.
“My expectation was whatever team takes me I’m going to go there. I just come in, I want to work. I want to show the coaching staff what I can do,” Skinner said. “The drafted/undrafted thing, that wasn’t a big deal to me, I just want to be able to get a chance.
“I played inside and outside in college. I have no preference. It’s pretty much the same – every guy pretty much has the same job, it’s just different on different plays and things like that. I’ll play anywhere coach wants me to play.”
Skinner has talked a bit with fellow linebackers and SEC products Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower, who stressed to him that football is a job now, and that everything must be taken seriously.