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In need of depth at linebacker and safety, the Patriots added a pair of players this week both with Massachusetts roots: Sixth year veteran linebacker and Boston College alumnus Ricky Brown and safety James Ihedigbo, an Amherst, Mass. native who stuck around to play his college ball at UMass.
Since the start of training camp, the Patriots have grown thinner than they would like at both linebacker and safety. Dane Fletcher left Thursday night’s win over the Bucs with a thumb injury, while Brandon Spikes, whom Fletcher was starting in place of, has missed practice time of late. Rookie free agent Christian Cox landed on injured reserve, while Jeff Tarpinian and Josh Barrett (S/ILB), two others farther down on the depth chart, have also missed time this week.
At safety, injuries to James Sanders and Bret Lockett have decimated the depth chart. With those two out and the release of Brandon McGowan, the Patriots came out of Thursday with only three healthy safeties on the roster in Brandon Meriweather, Pat Chung, and Sergio Brown.
Here’s a look at the two newest Patriots, and their chances at landing a spot on the 53-man roster:
Brown has spent his entire career up until this point as an Oakland Raider. The 6’2″, 235 lb. linebacker enjoyed a successful four year career at BC where he won the Scanlan Award for scholarship and leadership in his senior season. Brown went undrafted, but earned a contract with Oakland in 2006, and has spent the last five seasons under the watchful eye of Al Davis in a backup role. In 2010, he tallied 13 tackles in 14 games.
Brown’s NFL resume is by no means outstanding — his best season came in 2008 with 37 tackles and a forced fumble. Still, he is an experienced and hardworking player who will have a chance in the last two preseason games to fight for a spot on the Week 1 roster. To earn that spot, Brown will have to prove his value on special teams, as his main competition for a backup role appear to be Tracy White and Niko Koutouvides, two strong special teamers who may have less value as a member of the front seven. Brown will have a chance to show his stuff in the last two preseason games, but is nonetheless facing an uphill battle for a roster spot.
Patriots fans may better know Ihedigbo as a Jet than a Minuteman, but the fifth year veteran had played football in Amherst, Massachusetts for his entire life up until that point. Ihedigbo was a star at Amherst Regional High School, and he stayed on in his hometown to play his college ball at UMass, where he was a standout in the Atlantic 10.
Ihedigbo finally ventured out of the bay state when he signed on as an undrafted free agent with New York in 2007, where he has spent the last four years. In the past two seasons, Ihedigbo has played in 29 games, in which he recorded 41 tackles. He also proved apt at getting to the quarterback, posting five sacks in those two seasons.
Ihedigbo looks to have a better shot at making the roster than Brown. He has played well on the Jets’ special teams units, and if he can perform in a similar role in the remainder of preseason, he may very well earn a spot for Week 1. In all likelihood, Merriweather, Chung, Sanders, and Brown (who has played well) will make the roster. If Ihedigbo shines in the next few weeks, he could convince Belichick to carry a fifth safety, and turn his homecoming into a permanent stay.