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Patriots

Meet the seven undrafted free agents fighting for a role in the Patriots’ defense

Arkansas's De'Jon Harris takes down a ballcarrier.
Arkansas's De'Jon Harris takes down a ballcarrier.Michael Woods/Associated Press

In his four seasons in Foxborough, rugged linebacker Elandon Roberts provided some bone-rattling hits, jarring blocks, solid special teams play, and excellent leadership.

Now the competition is on to fill Roberts’s shoes, and the Patriots brought in a trio of rookie candidates, including a pair of undrafted free agents, who are poised to be in the thick of the battle.

In addition to sixth-round pick Cassh Maluia, New England signed De’Jon Harris and Kyahva Tezino, both of whom piled up a ton of tackles in their college careers.

Harris (5 feet 11 inches, 234 pounds) and Tezino (6-0, 235) are inside thumpers similar to the 6-0, 238-pound Roberts, who signed with the Dolphins in March.

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Here’s a look at the undrafted rookie defenders looking to secure a roster spot in New England:

De’Jon Harris: Nicknamed “Scoota,” the Arkansas standout was given a $15,000 signing bonus and $140,000 in total guarantees, an indication he was a high-priority free agent.

Harris is a muscular figure with excellent instincts and vision. He diagnoses plays quickly — he collected more than 100 tackles in three straight seasons in the tough Southeastern Conference — and locks onto ball carriers with ferocity.

He has excellent strength and good playing speed but does not have awesome lateral quickness or range, so his coverage skills are limited.

Kyahva Tezino: Similar to Harris, Tezino has great instincts and a nose for the ball, piling up 226 tackles, including 25 for losses, in his final two seasons at San Diego State.

San Diego State linebacker Kyahva Tezino (44) celebrates after his team beat Central Michigan in the New Mexico Bowl last December.
San Diego State linebacker Kyahva Tezino (44) celebrates after his team beat Central Michigan in the New Mexico Bowl last December.Andres Leighton/Associated Press

Tezino ($10,000 signing bonus, $70,000 in total guarantees) has a great first step and routinely cuts off running lanes and squeezes through creases to create pocket pressure. He’s full speed ahead but doesn’t yet have the backpedaling prowess to be a coverage linebacker.

Nick Coe: The 6-5, 291-pounder has versatility, with experience playing several techniques along the Auburn defensive line. He projects as an end as a pro, with good length and long arms.

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Nick Coe was an important part of Auburn's defense last season.
Nick Coe was an important part of Auburn's defense last season.Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

Coe ($5,000, $40,000) has impressive strength and can set the edge against the run and rag-doll blockers. He can deliver a nice jolt to tight ends, disrupting their timing and preventing them from getting into their routes. Consistency has been Coe’s bugaboo, likely the main reason he wasn’t plucked in the draft.

Bill Murray: This 6-4, 265-pounder dominated the competition at William & Mary thanks in large part to extraordinary athleticism for a man his size.

William & Mary's Bill Murray (left) and Carl Fowler (right) walk off the field in frustration after giving up a touchdown to James Madison last October.
William & Mary's Bill Murray (left) and Carl Fowler (right) walk off the field in frustration after giving up a touchdown to James Madison last October.Mike Caudill/Associated Press

A tackle in college, Murray ($10,000, $125,000) would need to bulk up to stay there at the NFL level (he has the frame to put on some size) but also could bump outside and get in the mix at end.

Courtney Wallace: He enjoyed a breakout 2019, his first season as a full-time starter at defensive tackle for Louisiana Tech. Wallace (6-2, 305) possesses the girth to be an old-fashioned middle-of-the-line lane clogger. Wallace ($4,000, $20,000) had 41 tackles (8.5 for losses) and 2 sacks last season.

Rashod Berry: One of the most intriguing players on this list, Berry played offense and defense at Ohio State. Listed as a tight end by the Patriots, he originally had “OLB” listed in his Twitter bio after signing.

With three other rookie tight ends in the fold, Berry’s best shot may come on defense. Berry ($7,500, $82,500) has nice size (6-4, 255) and athleticism and likely will fill a special teams role as he learns this defense.

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Myles Bryant: This sticky 5-9, 185-pounder appears best suited to play slot corner and gets a chance to further his education by playing alongside some of the best defensive backs in the league.

Washington defensive back Myles Bryant was a second-team All-Pac-12 pick.
Washington defensive back Myles Bryant was a second-team All-Pac-12 pick.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

Bryant ($5,000, $50,000) is comparatively undersized but was an impact player at Washington in large part because of a dogged work ethic on the field and in the film room. He is quick and instinctual and flashes nice closing speed.


Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.