The New England Patriots’ decision to sign quarterback Cody Kessler grabbed headlines Wednesday, but a less notable move involving a former QB could carry greater significance this week.
On the same day they added Kessler to their 53-man roster, the Patriots also signed a tight end named Jason Vander Laan to their practice squad, filling the spot previously occupied by promoted fullback Jakob Johnson. And while New England has lacked tight end depth this season, there’s a good chance Vander Laan was brought aboard to serve another purpose, as well.
You see, before he was a journeyman NFL pass-catcher, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Vander Laan was the most prolific running quarterback in the history of college football. He racked up an astounding 5,953 rushing yards over a four-year career at Division II Ferris State, setting the all-division NCAA record for a QB. He also rushed for 81 touchdowns — including 24 as a senior in 2014 — to go along with the 85 he recorded through the air.
This Sunday, the Patriots will face a signal-caller with similar rushing prowess: Buffalo’s Josh Allen, who trails only Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson in carries and rushing yards by a quarterback this season (26 for 105). It would make sense for New England to utilize Vander Laan to simulate the 6-5, 238-pound Bills QB’s talents in practice.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has spent the week raving about Allen’s mobility.
“He’s like a running back,” Belichick said Wednesday morning. “He breaks tackles. He’s got good speed, good power. He’s shifty. He avoids and breaks a lot of tackles. That’s another dimension — a sixth receiver in the passing game, if you will, and it gives another blocker in the running game when they have designed run plays for him.
“They’ve hit a lot of them at critical times — a lot of big plays, touchdowns, red area, third-down conversions, things like that. They use him in some timely ways — well-designed plays that create problems for the defense. He adds that element to their offense, and they’ve used it very effectively.”
Vander Laan has bounced around since entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2016. He’s spent time with the New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers, appearing in four games for Indy in 2017 before spending most of last season on Carolina’s practice squad.