FOXBOROUGH — The rain came, and practice ended. Players trotted off the field, down a set of stairs, and into a covered area adjacent to the floor level of Gillette Stadium.
Commingled with the professional football players were reporters, darting down the stairs next to significantly larger men. The difference in size and athleticism was eclipsed only by everyone’s desire to find shelter.
James Develin, 6 feet 3 inches and 255 pounds, was one of those players. He acknowledged he was not comfortable. But it wasn’t because of the combination of sweat and rain plastered to his hair, face, and grass-stained jersey. Nor was it because of the crushing lead blocks he’s provided for Stevan Ridley at training camp. No, Develin, the Patriots bruising fullback entering his third season, is not comfortable because comfort, he says, leads to complacency, and he does not want either.
“It’s never good to be comfortable in football,” Develin said after Sunday’s rain-shortened session. “You’re always trying to learn, and you’re always trying to just get better each and every day — get out there, work hard, work on your weaknesses, work on your strengths.
“And so comfort’s not really a thing I ever really think about.”
Develin — who literally burst onto the scene last season with a tenacious 1-yard touchdown run in New England’s 34-31 win over the Texans, on his second career carry — has given no reason to doubt that he again will make the roster.
On Saturday, when the Patriots pulled on pads for the first time, he delivered a fierce lead block during goal-line drills that sprung Ridley for a touchdown and fired up quarterback Tom Brady.
On Sunday, he did it again.
“Goal line’s always a great play: Both the offense and defense know what’s coming,” Develin said. “And it’s really just a fun play, because you’re getting in there and smashing heads — and just trying to get that 1 or 2 yards that you might need.”
It was, fittingly, on a goal-line play that he scored his first career touchdown. With the Patriots trailing, 17-7, in the third quarter against the Texans, Brady handed off to Develin at the 1-yard line.
The fullback tried to leap over the lines, but was stuffed in the air. He bounced back, broke a tackle, then another. He fought off a strip attempt, broke another tackle, and fell into the end zone with two defenders swiping at his ankles.
The touchdown play, which lasted seven seconds and started New England’s comeback, embodied Develin’s resolve: If at first you don’t succeed, try again.
He needed it after graduating Brown — where he was an All-Ivy League defensive end and earned a mechanical engineering degree — when he played in the Arena Football League and United Football League and spent about two years on NFL practice squads.
Then, late in the 2012 season, the Patriots promoted him to the active roster. Last season, he played all 18 games, including eight starts.
“It’s been a long road,” Develin said. “But I’m very, very appreciative of this organization for giving me the opportunities they’ve given me in the past, and I’m thankful to be here.”
And Develin has carried his persistence to Foxborough, director of player personnel Nick Caserio said.
“James is very smart. Works very, very hard. He had a great offseason,” Caserio said before Sunday’s practice. “From Day 1, when he entered the program, to where he is now — he’s really improved.”
Develin’s versatility — last season he lined up at tight end, fullback, and what Caserio called “detached from the formation” — provides the Patriots depth, and he’s practiced at fullback and tight end during training camp.
“He’s versatile, so he gives you a little bit of flexibility, because he can do a number of different things: He can block the force in a running game, he can put his hand down on the line of scrimmage and block the force on the line of scrimmage,” Caserio said.
“Versatility adds some value to myself,” Develin said, “but I’m just trying to get out here and do whatever I’m called upon to do.”
Even if it’s not comfortable.Rob Harms can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.