Justin Herron likely will be used as an example in New England Patriots meetings for years to come.
“Always be prepared.”
Minutes before the New England Patriots’ Week 4 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, Herron, a rookie sixth-round pick, was thrust into the starting lineup to replace right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor, who was dealing with migraines.
Patriots players are drilled to prepare like they’re going to start.
“It was so fast that I couldn’t even comprehend it,” Herron said Thursday. “It was just more of a — what we preach with the Patriots is you always have to be ready and do your job. And so, I go into the mindset with every game that, no matter what happens, I’m going to be ready and it just happens that that day I had to be ready. So, it was just the coaches and the players did a great job of making sure that I know what I need to do as a young offensive linemen, as a rookie. So, with the help of Jermaine, Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, the list goes on and on and on and they helped me be prepared to play against Kansas City. So, it is hard to say what I was thinking, I was just like, ‘I’m ready. I’ve got to go.’ “
Patriots co-offensive line coach Cole Popovich especially has been harping on keeping his players prepared. Multiple reserves have seen extensive playing time as the Patriots’ offensive line has dealt with injuries.
“I think an instance like that only makes it more real for all of us,” co-offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo said Friday.
The sudden promotion to a starting role was foretold in Week 1, Herron’s first game as a pro.
“It was kind of funny, the first week playing against the Dolphins, both Isaiah and Jermaine were just like, ‘Be ready, no matter what, be ready,’ ” Herron said. “And I was like, ‘OK.’ And when they told me that I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to be ready every time. I’ve got to be ready.’ So, it goes back to older players and coaches, they did a great job of preparing me to be ready, and obviously there’s still some things I need to work on, but they did a really good job.”
Herron, who garnered the nickname “Contacts” from Cam Newton for his light hazel eyes (he does not wear contacts), had played just 17 offensive snaps heading into Week 4. He went the distance, playing all 75 offensive snaps against the Chiefs and allowing three hurries, including a sack.
(While left tackle Isaiah Wynn allowed the sack quarterback Brian Hoyer took to finish out the first half, Herron let up the one that got the veteran QB benched with four minutes left in the third quarter. Hoyer held onto the ball for too long and fumbled on the play.)
Herron had played seven snaps as a jumbo tight end and 10 at left tackle entering Week 4. He played right tackle against the Chiefs and has spent some time at guard in the preseason. He played left tackle in college.
“I feel like when you come into the organization, it’s going to be hard regardless. As a rookie, no matter what your role is, it’s always going to be hard, since you’re a rookie and you’re trying to understand what’s going on,” Herron said. “But, you know, the coaches all spring they did a good job of telling me and Michael (Onwenu), ‘Hey make sure you know different positions and be ready.’
“And so, I focused on that during the time before we came here for training camp, making sure I was working different positions, and giving me that heads up that they did and telling me to be prepared for different positions, it helped a lot. Obviously, when you’re going full speed it’s hard. It’s hard to go from different positions, but hey, that’s what we signed up for, you know what I mean? Was it hard? Yes. But all in all, it’s helped so much me to know what’s going on in terms of what everyone’s doing on every single play.”
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick called Herron’s positional flexibility “impressive” earlier this week. It became clear that coaches liked Herron after he passed players like Korey Cunningham and Yodny Cajuste on the Patriots’ offensive tackle depth chart this summer.