FOXBOROUGH — Like most everyone else in Patriots training camp, Josh Kline, a second-year offensive lineman from Kent State, did not deviate one iota from the central theme or talking point of camp.
As far as Kline was concerned, his second year with the team was all about one thing and one thing only: Improvement.
“You just want to improve and help the team any way you can and try to get better every day,’’ said the 6-foot-3-inch, 295-pounder from Mason, Ohio. “That’s all it is, trying to show improvement, because that’s what they need and, once again, you just want to help the team.’’
When you’re a practice-squad player, as Kline was last season, it’s all you can hope for.
Show improvement on the practice squad. Get signed to the 53-man roster. Get on the field and make something happen to keep you active.
“I think as long as the player is improving you keep working with him and see how much more improvement they make,’’ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, when asked Tuesday how much time and effort the team was willing to commit to a practice-squad player. “If they continue to improve then you continue to work with them.’’
But once a player hits a plateau, or shows a steady decline, then the team must re-evaluate.
“At whatever point you think it’s kind of leveling off or you’ve reached the high-water mark, then you have to decide whether that’s good enough,’’ Belichick said. “If it’s not and you don’t feel like it’s going to get any better and it’s not good enough, you probably need to look for somebody else.’’
Kline wound up being signed as a rookie free agent May 3, 2013, came to camp with the Patriots, was cut on Sept. 2, and signed two days later to the practice squad.
Three days later, Kline was signed to the 53-man roster from the practice squad but waived on Sept. 11. Two days later, he landed again on the Patriots’ practice squad.
Kline made his NFL debut against the Steelers Nov. 3, when he entered the game at left guard for a kneel down on the game’s final play. It was nothing more than a cameo appearance.
“Yeah, it was, but it was fun,’’ said Kline, who played left guard against Miami Dec. 15 after left tackle Nate Solder left with a head injury, and left guard Logan Mankins slid over to left tackle. Kline made the first start of his career the following week in place of Mankins, who started at left tackle for the injured Solder.
“Like I said, when someone goes down, they want to see someone come in and help the team out in any way they can and I think I did an all right job in that,’’ Kline said. “That’s all they’re looking for.’’
The Patriots are always evaluating their players for any sign of improvement. For a practice player, it can mean the difference between getting cut or earning his keep on the team for another week.
“As long as that arrow keeps pointing up — you’re never really sure exactly how high it’s going to go,’’ Kline said. “And we all know that there’s a lot more to playing football than just straight physical testing abilities. We see that with a number of players on our team. Testing and all is relevant, I’m not saying it’s insignificant and ability is certainly, a certain level of it is required.
“But we’re playing football, we’re not track athletes, we’re not individual athletes. We’re football players on a team.’’
Kline, however, competed as an individual as a state champion wrestler in high school, winning the state title as a senior after compiling a 45-1 record.
“It helps just knowing how to play with leverage and everything,’’ said Kline, explaining how his wrestling background transferred to football. “But it’s sort of different because in wrestling it’s just you vs. another guy, and this is a team sport, and it’s all about the team in this sport.’’
But didn’t he revert to his wrestling skills when locked up with an opposing defensive lineman? “Yeah, you do, but it’s a little different because you’re dragging and with your hand placement,” he said. “But it all helps. It helped me out.’’
It helped Kline get back to training camp with the Patriots.
“It goes back to doing anything I can to help the team and showing improvement, because that’s what they look for,’’ he said. “I got my shot and I took advantage of it. Anything I can do to help the team win is a positive.’’