Dan Klecko is a big fan of what Elandon Roberts is doing this season. Big fan.
The former Patriots defensive lineman — who was also a part-time fullback in his three seasons with the Patriots — admires the work Roberts has been able to do this season, flipping from linebacker to fullback and clearing a path for Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and James White.
“I think he’s playing great — he’s doing a great job,” Klecko said. “He has the same package plays that I had there — when it comes to those short-yardage plays, it doesn’t look much different than when I was there — the short-yardage and four-minute offensive stuff.
“It can be tough, because you are asked to be more controlled and doing more reading. They can throw a lot at you. It’s a real critical role — I mean, these are goal-line or short-yardage situations. These are tight situations where you need to have yards. But he’s been great when they’ve asked him to do it.”
Roberts and Klecko are part of a group of defensive players-turned-fullbacks in New England over the years that included Richard Seymour and Junior Seau. And while all of them came by their gigs in their own way, Roberts might have gotten the job out of necessity: He was pressed into service after both James Develin and Jakob Johnson went down because of injuries. Roberts has played 11 snaps at fullback the last two games, and received kudos from coach Bill Belichick this past week for his work.
“Elandon’s got a very physical style of play, and he’s got a good skill set,” Belichick said. “He can run. He’s a very compact guy with good lower-body strength and leverage and power. I think we’ve all seen that on the defensive side of the ball and in the kicking game. We lost a couple fullbacks here on our roster with James Develin and Jak [Johnson], so we’ve used Elandon some at fullback. He had a big block in the [Dallas] game at the end of the game in the four-minute offense — probably one of the best blocks we’ve had all year.”
Klecko, a fourth-round pick of the Patriots in 2003, recalled the conversation he had with Belichick when he found out he’d move from defensive tackle to fullback, and he said he imagined it went the same with Roberts. After all, although Roberts has been in Foxborough for a few years, the depth chart at linebacker suggests premium snaps in 2019 would be few and far between for someone in his situation.
“Bill just walked up to me in camp one day and said, ‘We’re going to use you at fullback,’ ” Klecko said with a laugh. ”That’s pretty much how Bill was with me – he’d say things like, ‘OK, Willie [McGinest] is hurt this week, so you’re going to play outside linebacker,’ or ‘Tedy [Bruschi] is out, you’re at middle linebacker.’
“I mean, who was I to say no to Bill Belichick? I was just happy to be in the league and do whatever it was they asked me to do. What I learned from guys like [Mike] Vrabel and Tedy and Willie was that the more you can do, the longer you will stick around.”
Klecko said making the move wasn’t a huge challenge for him.
“I mean, I wasn’t a rocket scientist, but I always understood football, and fronts, and responsibilities,” recalled Klecko, the son of Jets’ legend Joe Klecko. “I had a good teacher in my dad, and growing up, I was always around the game, and so it was never really a daunting task making the switch.
“I mean, there were times after I got to Philly and played more fullback where I had to know five or six different positions. I think I always did well picking up things like that. It wasn’t really a daunting task.”
For his part, that do-anything attitude helped Klecko stick in the NFL for six years, including two with the Colts and one with the Eagles. Regardless of whether he’s remembered as a part-time offensive threat or stout defensive tackle, he’s happy with his legacy: He won three Super Bowl rings (two in New England), and is part of one of the great NFL trivia questions of all time — he’s one of only four guys to catch a regular-season pass from Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, part of a group that includes Wes Welker, Jermaine Wiggins and Torrance Small.
“That’s still amazing,” he said with a chuckle. “I know what I was — I was no star. No stud. I tried to do what was asked of me. It just happened that I played with the two best quarterbacks to ever step on a football field. I was also watching the NFL Network’s “Top 100 Teams” countdown the other day, and I was on three of those teams. That’s pretty cool. Not bad for a fourth-round pick out of Temple, huh?”