FOXBORO, Mass. — Less than two weeks after Eric Lee escaped Buffalo, the defensive end is heading back, if only briefly, to the AFC East tundra.
It’s understandable if Lee, now a Patriots defensive end, experiences some deja vu Sunday when New England takes on the Bills. The offensive linemen he’ll be lining up against at New Era Field are the same ones he practiced against for weeks on the Bills’ scout team.
But somehow Lee was rescued from the Bills to go to the promised land while those starting blockers at still toiling away at 6-5. The Patriots, who are 9-2 on the season, signed Lee off the Bills’ practice squad last week after they waived offseason acquisition bust Cassius Marsh.
“It’s going to be pretty strange,” Lee said Tuesday. “I respect a lot of guys on that team, so it’s going to be pretty different playing for here and playing against the guys I’ve been playing against in practice and everything like that. It will be different.”
Strange, yes, but also possibly advantageous. It’s unlikely Bills starting offensive linemen paid much attention to Lee’s tendencies. But Lee studied those offensive linemen for 11 weeks.
“Obviously, there’s things I’ve picked up in practice and whatnot and just knowing, personnel-wise, knowing these guys, their strengths and weaknesses and things like that,” Lee said. “I always try to take it as my approach even when I was there, beat the guy in front of you. Obviously, there’s things that I’ve noticed just from an awareness standpoint I’m aware of.”
Lee, a first-year player who went undrafted out of South Florida in 2016, will be playing a slightly different position Sunday than he did with the Bills. With hybrid-edge defenders Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy and Trevor Reilly banged up, it’s likely we’ll see the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Lee playing with his hand in the dirt at defensive end and standing up at outside linebacker, where he’ll be defending the run, rushing the passer and dropping into coverage.
Fortunately, he has some experience standing up from his time in Houston in his first year-plus in the NFL.
“It was a little carryover from the Texans,” Lee said. “Being in coverage and being in standup, that was something that was new to me coming into the NFL, but now it’s more natural and something I’m accustomed to. Putting my hand in the dirt, I’m fine with, as well as standing up, I’m fine with.”
Lee impressed in his NFL and Patriots debut Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, against whom he recorded four tackles, a sack, a pressure and two run stuffs. Lee played 25 snaps for the Patriots in Week 12. Don’t surprised if he plays even more against the Bills and manages more time on the field than some of the defensive ends he couldn’t pass on Buffalo’s depth chart. It’s all about opportunities in the NFL.