FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick said during the 2023 NFL Draft that Marte Mapu’s role for the Patriots could change on a week-to-week basis.

He wasn’t kidding.

When the Patriots held their first open practice of organized team activities last week, Mapu was playing his listed position of linebacker, patrolling the second level in his red No. 52 jersey. But when New England practiced in front of reporters again Tuesday, the third-round rookie was manning a different spot. The Patriots had him back deep at free safety, adding his name to the list of potential replacements for retired team leader Devin McCourty.

That’s a lot to put on the plate of a first-year player who’s making the sizable jump from the Football Championship Subdivision. But Mapu’s skill set makes him an intriguing addition to a Patriots defense that loves multipositional players.

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At Sacramento State, Mapu’s “nickel back” position had him playing slot defender, deep safety, strong safety, overhang linebacker and edge rusher depending on the defensive play call and offensive personnel. He didn’t play much inside linebacker in college but did so at the Senior Bowl, where his athleticism and physicality flashed against players from much more prominent programs.

Listed at 6-foot-3, 216 pounds, Mapu is much leaner than most Patriots linebackers, nearly all of whom check in at 235 or heavier. But New England has used safeties Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips and Jabrill Peppers in linebacker-esque roles in recent years.

“(The safety and linebacker positions) definitely are (interchangeable) depending on what packages that we’re in, what personnel is on the field,” Dugger said after Tuesday’s practice. “They’re definitely interchangeable, so learning both is essential.”

That’s exactly what Mapu is doing as he begins his Patriots career, and it’ll be fascinating to see how Belichick and company ultimately deploy him. Will he be the type of athletic, new-age linebacker New England’s defense has notably lacked? Will he emerge from the half-dozen candidates to succeed McCourty? Will he do both, bouncing between ‘backer and safety alignments?

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Mapu won’t have a chance to show off the full range of his talents until training camp, when live contact begins and he’s able to shed the non-contact jersey he’s sported as he recovers from offseason pectoral surgery.

“I think the biggest thing is just him knowing at the end of the day, wherever they sub him in at, what position am I at, firstly?” said defensive back Jalen Mills, who’s also gotten looks at McCourty’s old free safety spot this spring. “Whether I’m at linebacker (or) I’m at safety, I’m on the tight end, I’m on the running back. And then two, what’s my execution for this play? Am I in man? Am I in zone? And then just let his athletic ability take over from there.”

In all likelihood, the Patriots will lean on multiple player to fill McCourty’s shoes, utilizing some combination of Dugger, Phillips, Peppers, Mills, Mapu and Joshuah Bledsoe to replace what the longtime captain brought as a coverage player, run defender and communicator. Defensive play-caller Steve Belichick referred to that as an “open competition” before organized team activities began, and no clear favorite has emerged through two open practices.

“We’re working a lot of guys in a lot of different positions now, so we’ll see how it all plays out,” Bill Belichick said before Tuesday’s OTA. “Let them compete, see where the team needs different guys, and see how it goes. We want to give players an opportunity to learn multiple spots. I think that helps them understand the overall system, but also gives them a chance to compete at different spots.”

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Featured image via Darren Yamashita/USA TODAY Sports Images