FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots and Los Angeles Chargers both added tight ends to their respective 53-man rosters ahead of their divisional-round playoff matchup Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
The Chargers activated Hunter Henry, who’d spent the entire season on the physically unable to perform list after tearing his ACL in the preseason. The Patriots promoted Stephen Anderson, who’d been languishing on the practice squad since before Week 1.
Hunter, one of the NFL’s better pass-catching tight ends, certainly was the more high-profile addition, but the 25-year-old Anderson could be an under-the-radar contributor for New England.
Despite his lengthy stint on New England’s practice squad, Anderson has considerable NFL experience, playing in 28 games for the Houston Texans over the previous two seasons. He appeared in 15 games for Houston in 2017, catching 25 passes for 342 yards and a touchdown.
“It was tough,” Anderson said Friday. “It was tough playing for two years and starting my last five games in Houston and having a pretty decent season, I would say, and then coming here and, in a way, starting over and having to start from the bottom. But when I got cut and I was trying to figure out a place to go, I wanted to continue to get better and continue to compete and continue to work hard every single day, and this was the perfect place, because we work hard every single day, it has a history of great tight ends and it’s just an organization that’s going to go far, and that’s what I wanted to be a part of.
“So even though I had to take a step back, I don’t think that my skills have diminished. I think I’ve gotten better with the reps I’ve been able to get on the practice squad.”
Though he naturally would have preferred to be playing in games for the Patriots, Anderson was able to add new wrinkles to his game as he portrayed opposing tight ends on the scout team each week. He also studied film of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, whose name, he said, often is mentioned on the practice field.
“The first person was Eric Ebron when we played Indy (in Week 5),” Anderson said. “The way they use him, he’s a tight end, but they can use him as a receiver. I think (Chris) Herndon from the Jets, they use him in kind of that tight end/receiver role.
“And looking at old tape, I did go back and look at Aaron Hernandez. I hear great things about him, and I had to see it for myself, because not everyone gets to see him in practice, and I always hear about him in practice, so I definitely took a look at him. There are some things that I try to pull, try to use out there and try to add to my arsenal.”
What kind of things?
“All of it,” he explained. “I could tell you that Ebron at the top of the route, he’s something at the top of the route. Aaron Hernandez off the line. I think a lot of the great tight ends, like even Jordan Reed, he kind incorporates basketball with that. So I’ve been trying to use that and just learning. That’s the whole thing I’ve been gaining this season — I’ve been learning a lot.”
At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, Anderson is a “move” tight end who could bring the Patriots the type of pass-catching ability they expected to get from Jacob Hollister this season. Hollister impressed in training camp but dealt with myriad injuries before finally being placed on injured reserve this week, with Anderson taking his spot on the 53-man roster.
“I think I’m a true hybrid,” Anderson said. “I’m probably not going to move a D-tackle, but I’ll be able to get in there. I feel like blocking is just half attitude, and then the other half is technique, so being able to get in there and complete my blocking assignments.
“Then running routes, I’m pretty confident against linebackers, and safeties and corners, I think I can get open against them, too. So just a true hybrid. My dad used to use the term when I was younger, ‘Swiss army knife,’ so I can do a little bit of everything.”
Hollister and No. 2 tight end Dwayne Allen — who’s been used almost exclusively as a blocker since joining the Patriots in 2017 — combined for just seven catches for 79 yards and no touchdowns during the regular season, giving New England little production behind starter Rob Gronkowski, whose numbers also diminished.
There’s no guarantee Anderson even will be active against the Chargers, but if he is, he’s confident he can make an impact.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’ve been learning throughout the season. I’ve been gaining confidence. I’ve been improving my technique, my skills, and I think if I get a shot, then I’ll be ready.”