FOXBORO, Mass. — New England Patriots third-year pro Brandon King can best be categorized as a “special-teams ace:” he never has played an offensive or defensive snap in his 36-game NFL career. He must have a more defined position, though — right?
Patriots captain Matthew Slater also is best categorized as a “special-teams ace” (Why is “ace” the most commonly used noun to follow the compound formation special-teams? Who knows…) but he’s a wide receiver. Ditto for Nate Ebner, who’s a safety, Brandon Bolden, a running back, and Geneo Grissom, a defensive end.
King, who made the play of the year on a Week 8 safety, is listed on the Patriots’ roster as a defensive back and wears No. 36, but he’s not a cornerback or safety. King is a linebacker. He practices with linebackers, he warms up with linebackers and he attends linebacker meetings, but for some reason he’s not officially a linebacker.
“I came in playing safety and got brought here playing defensive back, and shortly after ended up moving to linebacker,” King said. “I can’t really tell you the reason behind that, and I don’t know if I’m supposed to. Just going to steer clear of that one. But yeah, I’ve been a linebacker after pretty much a few weeks after I got here.”
Coaches acknowledge this, too. Brian Flores, the Patriots’ linebackers coach, called King, who’s listed at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, a linebacker during New England’s bye week. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick mentioned King after the team’s Week 8 win over the Los Angeles Chargers when asked a broader question about the linebacker position.
“We had a little bit more depth at linebacker in this game — five plus Brandon King, so those guys helped to supplement the front with the depth that we were missing on the defensive line,” Belichick said at the time.
It seems King started his career as a safety and no one bothered to give him a new position or number. And while it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, it’s an NFL oddity.
King hasn’t seen the field as a linebacker, but he definitely practices at the position.
“We work on defense a lot,” King said. “It’s limited — you only have so much room on the roster, so it’s not like people are just playing offense and no special teams. Everyone goes out there contributing all the way around the board, because the bodies are limited and everyone has to get the amount of reps it takes to be physical and play in a game at a competitive level. I get work at everything.”
The thought of King playing linebacker at some point this season is intriguing. He’s by far New England’s most athletic player at the position, as he showcases on special teams each week. He ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash with a 39-inch vertical leap, 10-foot, 6-inch broad jump, 7.28-second 3-cone drill and 4.47-second short shuttle in 2015 when coming out of Auburn, where he played safety, defensive end and linebacker.bran
So, what made linebacker his best fit in the NFL?
“With players like that a lot of times their role starts situationally first as opposed to playing on all three downs,” Belichick said Tuesday in a conference call. “I’d say that’s probably the way it is with most players like that. Brandon has good size, and he can run, and he’s athletic, plays well on his feet and has good speed, but yeah, somewhere between those positions. He played defensive line in college. I think in this league it’s a little more of a safety-to-linebacker, somewhere in that range he would fit.”
Wait. “Safety-to-linebacker?” Right after we got King’s position figured out, the confusion continues.
Thumbnail photo via Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports Images