James Develin Showcases Versatility With Patriots’ Tight End Corps Lacking

James Develin, Brandon BoykinFOXBORO, Mass. — James Develin doesn’t care where he plays, as long as he’s playing football.

Develin played defensive end during his college career at Brown. Then, he made the switch to fullback, appearing in all 16 games at the position with the New England Patriots last season.

Now, at least until the Patriots can find a way to keep their tight ends off the injury list, the 26-year-old has molded his game into that of a lead blocker-pass catcher hybrid, and his ability to continuously adjust to new positions has been a boon for New England so far this preseason.

“I go into every game just ready for whatever may come my way,” Develin said Friday after the Patriots’ 42-35 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. “It’s no different, you know, how many tight ends, or whatever the circumstance may be, I’m just going to go out there and handle every game the same.”

Develin handled himself quite well Friday night.

The Patriots went into the game — the second of their exhibition slate — with just one healthy tight end: Steve Maneri, who signed with the team just five days earlier. The “tight ends” group during warmups consisted of Maneri, Develin and linebacker Taylor McCuller. Maneri was targeted just once in the contest, and a miscommunication with quarterback Tom Brady on that play led to a 77-yard pick-six for Eagles cornerback Cary Williams.

Develin, meanwhile, developed a nice rapport with backup signal-caller Jimmy Garoppolo. He hauled in two passes from the rookie during a drive late in the first quarter, including a 15-yard catch-and-run out of the backfield for a touchdown that put the Patriots ahead 14-7.

Develin, who scored his first career touchdown in Week 13 against the Houston Texans last season, was happy to find himself in the end zone again.

“It felt good, man,” he said. “It was a great play call, and Jimmy put a good ball on me. I’m just glad to have the opportunity to go out there and do it.”

The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder is easy to spot on the field, and not just for his trademark cowboy collar. Develin pairs his bruising, straight-ahead running style with surprising quickness, which can cause nightmares for defensive backs like the Eagles’ Brandon Boykin, whom he plowed over at the goal line.

“That’s not a bad thing, turning around seeing a corner over there,” Develin said. “It’s different … from hitting linebackers and defensive linemen all day. Whoever it may be in front of me, I’m just going to try to get (as many) extra yards as possible.”

Extra work with the tight ends in practice — he says he’s learned a great deal about route-running techniques during training camp — has made Develin a valuable part of the Patriots’ offense and likely spared him from the upcoming preseason roster cuts. That’s not the mindset he has, though.

“I’ll never say that I’m secure,” Develin said. “I hate feeling comfortable. I never want to be content, and I’m always going to go out there and work hard and try to improve and try to gain some value.”

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