Many of the New England Patriots’ 2019 draft picks played sparingly as rookies.
Fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham was the backup quarterback, appearing only in mop-up duty. Second-rounder Joejuan Williams was buried at the bottom of a loaded cornerback depth chart. Third-round running back Damien Harris essentially redshirted, playing just 10 total snaps all year.
Two members of that draft class, though, did not see the field at all during the regular season: offensive linemen Yodny Cajuste (third round) and Hjalte Froholdt (fourth). Both players missed their entire rookie season with injuries — Cajuste’s suffered before the draft and Froholdt’s coming in New England’s preseason finale.
As the start of Year 2 approaches, one appears to be trending upward while the other remains stuck in neutral.
Through five open training camp practice, Froholdt appears to have the inside track on the top interior O-line backup job held in recent years by Ted Karras.
Froholdt, a Denmark native who didn’t become an O-linemen until his sophomore year at Arkansas, primarily played guard for the Razorbacks and during his first summer with the Patriots but can play center, as well. New England has little depth behind starting center David Andrews, so that versatility is valuable.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said he’s seen noticeable improvement from Froholdt.
“Hjalte is a guy who hasn’t played a lot of football, just his background and so forth,” Belichick said Friday morning. “So he’s learned an awful lot. He’s a very smart kid and he’s got good physical talent. He’s strong, he’s explosive, he can run well, he can do a lot of different things. It’s really about refinement and technique and anticipation and things like that. He’s taken a big jump there.”
Cajuste’s development is progressing more slowly. He does not appear to be a leading candidate for Marcus Cannon’s vacated right tackle spot, and he missed practice Thursday and Friday — a troubling sign for a player who did not participate in a single practice or game last season.
The West Virginia product acknowledged Wednesday he’s a bit rusty after so much time away from the field.
“Yodny obviously missed the whole year last year, even missed more time than Froholdt did,” Belichick said. “But he’s a guy that has a lot of experience playing the position that he’s played in college. Again, it’s really for him more of getting back into playing and being consistent, and his footwork and hand punch and technique and balance and things like that.
“Training in the weight room and conditioning and so forth are great to put a player in position to compete in practice. But from a football standpoint, especially in the offensive line, working against other bodies and having your balance, being able to have that hand-to-hand, close-quarters contact, there’s just no substitute for that.”