FOXBORO, Mass. — Taylor McCuller is trying to take a simple approach to a very difficult demand.
The rookie has been tasked with playing linebacker and fullback for the New England Patriots. He carries around a blue jersey, for when he has to practice with the defense, and a white jersey for when he plays offense. In Thursday’s preseason opener against the Washington Redskins, McCuller played fullback, took a break while the punting unit was on the field, then played linebacker in the next defensive series.
“Luckily, linebacker and fullback are pretty similar, and you just go in there and hit somebody,” McCuller said Monday at Gillette Stadium after practice. “It’s just a great opportunity to play both sides of the ball, and that’s what I’d love to continue to do. But I’m here to help out the team, and whatever they ask me to do, I’m gonna do.”
McCuller obviously isn’t complaining about having twice the responsibility of a normal rookie. The West Texas A&M product called being a two-way player “a dream come true.”
“It was something that they approached me from Day 1. It was always in the cards, I think,” McCuller said about playing offense and defense. “And something that I liked the idea of, because when I was a little kid, I always wondered why players didn’t play more on both sides of the ball. It was kind of one of those things where it was something that — it’s a dream come true. And I’m just trying to do anything I can do to help the team out.”
McCuller has spent more time in the fullbacks meeting room than with the linebackers, despite not having played offense since high school. McCuller played H-back at Red Oak High School in Texas, where he had over 400 receiving yards and over 400 rushing yards on offense, while also contributing at defensive end and outside linebacker.
McCuller focused his talents on linebacker at West Texas A&M, starting 44 games and totaling 434 tackles, 25.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and nine forced fumbles.
If McCuller can’t crack the 53-man roster, he has a great chance of making the Patriots’ practice squad. Bill Belichick puts a premium on versatile players, and McCuller, who also contributes on special teams, can fill two roles in one player. Belichick has been impressed with the former Division II defender.
“He works hard. He’s a good kid,” Belichick said Monday at Gillette Stadium before training camp about McCuller. “He’s pretty smart to be able to handle multiple responsibilities plus the kicking game. [He’s got] a long way to go; not really very experienced on either side of the ball or special teams, and he’s making a big jump from where he played last year to where he’s playing now. It’s a big mountain to climb for him, but he comes in here, works hard every day.”
McCuller has a great mentor on the Patriots in starting fullback James Develin, who also played defense at a small school. Develin, a defensive end and outside linebacker at Brown, has made a successful transition to fullback.
“The vets here, they always, they’re always nice to have around whenever you have any questions,” McCuller said. “James has been a heck of a role model, and he’s helped me every step of the way.”