FOXBORO, Mass. — There's a lot of young blood among the Patriots' linebacking corps, with the team having completely transitioned from the veteran group that carried New England for the majority of the last decade.
Jerod Mayo, Gary Guyton, Tyrone McKenzie, Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham represent the wave of the future, stepping in for the departed Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Junior Seau and Adalius Thomas.
There might be another young linebacker added to the mix, too. Thomas Williams, who joined the Patriots last November, has caught the eye of head coach Bill Belichick, and Williams is a dark horse candidate to make the roster.
Williams was originally signed to New England's practice squad, and he was promoted to the active roster before the Patriots' playoff loss to the Ravens, although he didn’t dress for the game. In April, when asked about potentially combining Mayo and Spikes on the inside of the defense, Belichick eventually veered off the subject, saying he was excited about a handful of younger players and mentioned Williams by name.
Of course, that’s not the end-all, be-all, but Belichick doesn’t always go out of his way to pay his respects, and his name drop was a sign that Williams is in the coach's good graces. The third-year linebacker, though, wouldn’t get ahead of himself with Belichick's praises, but he had an active camp and earned the chance to get a solid amount of reps with the first and second team.
"I'm doing well, just trying to learn as much as I can, get better, focus every single day on trying to get better at something that I was not so clear on the day before," Williams said.
Williams was the Jaguars' fifth-round pick in 2008 and played in six games as a rookie, but he was waived during 2009 roster cuts. The USC product then had a three-week stint on Seattle's practice squad before getting released, and he spent about a month and a half out of the NFL before getting picked up by the Patriots.
Williams said he added 13 pounds of muscle since last season and is up to 248 pounds. The extra mass has been helpful, as the Patriots also used him at fullback during organized team activities and minicamp. It's a position he's played in both high school and college, and by showing that versatility in the pros, Williams is hoping it will help him land one of those final roster positions at the end of the summer.
"It's fun," Williams said. "They asked me to do it, so I said, 'Sure, why not? Whatever you guys want me to do, listen, I'm here. I want to help this team win."