FOXBORO, Mass. — Two weeks ago, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said he was still trying to figure out how to utilize front-seven defender Ufomba Kamalu.
Belichick must be closer to an answer because the Patriots signed Kamalu off their practice squad Friday. Using Kamalu properly is complicated because of his combination of size and athleticism. At 6-foot-6, 300 pounds, Kamalu is the size of a three-technique defensive tackle or five-technique defensive end, but he played outside linebacker and seven-technique defensive end with the Houston Texans.
He’s able to do that because he ran a 4.88-second 40-yard dash with a 7.32-second 3-cone drill coming out of Miami in 2016. It’s unlikely Kamalu will play outside linebacker in the Patriots’ defense, but he could be a versatile chess piece that can slide from defensive end to defensive tackle depending on the situation. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Patriots used Kamalu (sparingly) on the edge on early downs and at defensive tackle on obvious passing downs.
It will be interesting to see if Kamalu, who was signed to the practice squad in early November, will be active Sunday when the Patriots take on the Buffalo Bills.
In recent weeks, Patriots second-year defensive ends Derek Rivers and Keionta Davis have been healthy scratches. If Kamalu is active, that means he’s gone from the practice squad to leapfrogging Rivers and Davis on the defensive depth chart in no time.
Rivers, a 2017 third-round pick who missed last season with a torn ACL, was last active in Week 9. He has just one tackle in five games.
Davis, a highly thought of undrafted free agent who missed his 2017 rookie season with a neck injury, was last active in Week 10. He has just six tackles in six games.
Kamalu playing in Week 16 wouldn’t be a great sign for Rivers or Davis, but it would show the promise the Patriots see in him. And Rivers and Davis haven’t been effective in limited playing time. The Patriots might as well see what they have in Kamalu, who has more NFL experience than Rivers and Davis. Kamalu played 13 games with the Texans in 2016 and 2017, registering 11 tackles and three sacks.
Many times, the Patriots will sign an intriguing player to their practice squad, and nothing will ever come of it. It’s fun to see the Patriots taking a chance on Kamalu after seeing him work on the scout team for nearly two months.
If nothing else, it will be interesting to see how Belichick decides to use a 300-pound athlete who can stand up at outside linebacker. There’s no guarantee Kamalu will make an impact this season, but he’s a player with potential, and the Patriots’ defense could use some upside.
The Patriots also have Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, John Simon and Adrian Clayborn at defensive end and Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and Danny Shelton at defensive tackle.