FOXBOROUGH — Talking to Elandon Roberts long enough reveals his affinity for calling everyone “big dog.” Perhaps it’s simply easier than remembering names, but there’s something fitting about Roberts using a moniker that embodies his style of play.
Roberts, who is listed as 6 feet, 235 pounds, was tabbed by draft experts as undersized when the Patriots took him in the sixth round in 2016. Despite the slight, he’s upheld his reputation as the team’s hard-hitting inside linebacker, whose style of play is akin to a Mack Truck careering off an interstate highway, guardrails be damned.
“Being aggressive can sometimes kick you in the butt,” said Roberts.
As Roberts continues to grow, he’s learning to harness his aggressive instincts and meld it with his knowledge of coordinator Matt Patricia’s defensive scheme to become a more complete player.
At times, the second-year linebacker is reminiscent of former Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes, best known for his run-stuffing strengths. In the Patriots’ 35-17 win Sunday against the Dolphins, Roberts flashed his ability as a pass rusher and recorded two sacks, the first of his career.
In true Patriots fashion, Roberts was quick to turn the page from the personal achievement Tuesday at Gillette Stadium.
“Not really harping on it right now,” he said.
“We just all out there executing what we have called on the field. I was just the guy to be able to come free and make a play, whether it was me or the other 10.”
Roberts has emerged as an inside presence on the Patriots’ defensive front, his snaps increasing to 45 percent from 25 in his rookie season. It’s uncommon for inside defenders to excel as pass rushers, but coach Bill Belichick praised Roberts for his growth in that area.
“One thing they can do is time up their blitzes and then, in addition to that, I would say recognize and try to take advantage of the way the offense blocks them,” Belichick said Monday in a conference call.
“I think Elandon has had an opportunity to blitz a number of times over the last couple of years and he’s certainly gotten better at it. He has good speed and he’s aggressive, but the real key is not just running in a straight line and getting blocked, but being able to read on the run and make the right decision based on the way the play unfolds in front of you.”
The Patriots linebacker demonstrated that ability Sunday. During Roberts’s first sack against the Dolphins, he toed the line of scrimmage and timed his blitz to blow past center Mike Pouncey. On the second one in the fourth quarter, Roberts disguised his blitz. He waited as the Dolphins’ interior line parted to double team the edge and Roberts ran freely at Matt Moore for a 10-yard loss.
“If they block at you, away from you, a run play, or a pull, you gotta read it through,” Roberts said. “You’ve got to have big eyes. You’ve got to be able to see it.
“I know what the scheme is. I know what we want. At the same time I can do these things, but I have to be aggressive in the right way. It’s not just me out there. There’s 10 others and we all have to do our job.”
A special place
Since the Patriots drafted Nate Ebner in the sixth round in 2012, he’s been one of the special teams aces in New England.
Aside from 2014, when he missed four games because of a broken thumb, Ebner had never played fewer than 15 games in a season and is consistently one of the team’s best special teams tacklers.
He was placed on injured reserve Monday after sustaining a knee injury on a fake punt against the Dolphins, which leaves the Patriots with a void that will be tough to fill.
“Nate’s been an absolute stalwart on special teams for us,” fullback James Develin said. “But we have guys to fill in and we’ll all have to pick up our game collectively and pick up for that. It’s a shame for him to go down but we’ll make the adjustments we need to and move on.
Grigsby, King in fold
The Patriots signed linebacker Nicholas Grigsby and offensive lineman Jason King, a day after Ebner and tight end Martellus Bennett were placed on injured reserved. Grigsby, who was on the Ravens’ practice squad, joined the Rams in 2016 as an undrafted free agent and played six games on special teams. At Pitt, Grigsby was voted special teams captain his junior year. King joined the Patriots as an undrafted free agent this season, signed to the practice squad Oct. 9 and was released Oct. 20. He was released from the Ravens’ practice squad Nov. 14 . . . When the Patriots play the Bills this weekend, several players will participate in the “My Cause, My Cleats” initiative, which allows players to wear custom cleats to promote a cause. Tom Brady and James White will support Best Buddies International, while Nate Solder will support pediatric cancer through the Joe Andruzzi Foundation and the Jimmy Fund. Belichick will also wear customized sneakers to support the Bill Belichick Foundation . . . The Patriots announced the death of former defensive back Dave Cloutier, who died Nov. 6 at age 78. Cloutier, the first Maine native in Patriots history, signed as a free agent with the Boston Patriots in 1964, when he appeared in 12 of the team’s 14 games as a defensive back and punt returner. Cloutier led the team with 20 punt returns for 136 yards, averaging 6.8 yards per return. He was inducted into both the University of Maine Hall of Fame and the Maine Sports Hall of Fame.