FOXBORO, Mass. — There might not be room on the Patriots roster for Sam Roberts, but the former Division II defensive lineman is checking all the right boxes in his first NFL training camp.
A sixth-round pick out of Northwest Missouri State, Roberts possesses NFL-ready size and athleticism with his 6-foot-5 frame and impressive speed. But the rookie didn’t stand out over the first couple weeks of training camp, seemingly buried in a crowded defensive line depth chart.
That changed last Thursday night when Roberts arguably was the best player on the field in the Patriots’ preseason loss to the New York Giants. He registered a game-high five quarterback pressures (should’ve been six) and finished with six combined tackles. And he did it against some high draft picks, including Giants rookie tackle Evan Neal, the seventh overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Roberts still has much more work to do before securing a roster spot — he actually made the cut on our latest 53-man projection — but thus far he’s impressed head coach Bill Bill Belichick.
“Sam, like a lot of our rookies — I think you could really say this about just about all of them — he’s fast, he’s certainly had some good moments and good plays,” Belichick said before Monday’s practice. “It’s a big jump for him: the level of competition, scheme, everything else. He was one of the best where he played, and that’s flipped now. He’s a talented guy, he works very hard. He’s improved a lot. He’s got a lot of room to grow.
“His fundamentals and his recognition and obviously experience in the league — he has a long, long way to go on that. But he’s better every time he steps onto the field, he’s been healthy, he’s been on the field, he’s gotten a lot of reps, which is how you improve. I like working with him, but we’ll see how it goes. He’s got a ways to go, but he’s making a lot of progress.”
Defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington also likes what he’s seen from Roberts.
“Sam has done a great job so far, coming in, working hard,” Covington said Monday. “Early in the morning, late at night, he’s coming in trying to learn the playbook — which he’s done a good job of. And he’s trying to find a role on our team in some way, and he’s taken advantage of every opportunity he’s given.
“And that’s what we ask our players: ‘When you’re given an opportunity, take advantage of that opportunity. And then just put your head down and work every day and we’ll see where the cards fall from there.'”
Roberts certainly wouldn’t be the first late-round pick to flash in a meaningless preseason game before disappearing the rest of training camp. In fact, if you’re a betting person, that probably is the outcome you should bank on.
But if Roberts can start stacking success, including having a strong showing in this week’s joint practices with the Carolina Panthers, he just might force his way onto the field in Week 1.
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