ATLANTA — Upon seeing James Ferentz, it might take a few cracks at his profession to guess NFL player.
The New England Patriots offensive lineman is undersized at couple ticks over 6 feet and probably a few units shy of his listed 300 pounds. He’s compact rather than portly, unlike some NFL blockers, and regularly wears a flannel shirt tossed over a T-shirt with sweatpants and a ballcap over his eyes.
Strength coach? Construction worker? Sure.
Without records available, we’d safely guess Ferentz, 29, was the oldest practice squad player in the NFL for two months from September to November. Ferentz didn’t make the Patriots out of training camp, so he stuck on the practice squad for the second straight year. When Shaq Mason suffered a calf injury in November, Ferentz got called off the practice squad and has stuck on the active roster since.
Because Ferentz spent the 2014, 2017 and 2018 seasons on the practice squad, he no longer has eligibility for the scout team next year.
“So, I guess that safety net’s gone,” Ferentz said during the week of Super Bowl LIII.
But does he have a backup plan if history repeats itself and he can’t make a 53-man roster out of camp?
“No, honestly, I don’t,” Ferentz said. “I get that question a lot from my mom of all people. She’s just concerned.
“I really believe if you have a back-up plan, you’ll — maybe not intentionally but inadvertently — you will look for that as an excuse. ‘OK, I can just have a fallback on this.’ So, for me, it’s always just been gung ho or bust, because it’s just the way I’m wired and the way I operate because I really do believe if you have a backup plan that you will be a little more likely to take your foot off the gas.”
Ferentz’s father is Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. His older brother Brian is Iowa’s offensive coordinator after spending a couple years kicking around NFL training camps and practice squads an offensive lineman. His younger brother Steven is a graduate assistant coach at Central Michigan after going undrafted out of Iowa. James is the only Ferentz with actual NFL experience, playing in 21 games with the Denver Broncos in 2015 and 2016 and two with the Patriots this season.
Given the family name, Ferentz almost certainly could get a gig in coaching if playing doesn’t work out moving forward.
“It’s something I’ve grown up around my entire life, and so I’ve kind of seen a lot of aspects of it,” Ferentz said. “Coaches are away from their family a lot. That’s not always the easiest, but at the same time, football has provided so much opportunity not only to me and my family. It’s just something I’m really grateful for and really appreciative of. The bottom line there is probably, honestly, it would be hard for me to not see football in my life in some capacity.”
Being on the Patriots’ active roster comes with a greater paycheck and more esteem, but there are some disadvantages. When he was on the practice squad last season, Ferentz’ wife and son stayed in his room with him.
“This year I’m riding solo,” Ferentz said.
That might be for the best. Ferentz had another son last week. A newborn in a hotel before the Super Bowl seems like a recipe for disaster.
Thumbnail photo via Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports Images