At every NFL training camp, there are always out-of-the-blue success stories — players who no one was talking about at the start of the summer, but through hard work and sheer will have managed to elbow their way into contention for a roster spot. This year is no different, as the Patriots have had more than their share of under-the-radar possibilities rise up and make a name for themselves. Now, with half the preseason schedule in the books and the regular season less than three weeks away, these four underdogs have positioned themselves nicely to beat the odds and win a roster spot. Here are our favorite success stories of the summer.
Offensive lineman Jordan Devey – As of Sunday afternoon, Devey was the only player in the league who played every single snap for his team in the preseason. The 6-foot-7, 317-pounder out of Memphis, who spent all of the 2013 season on the practice squad, has lined up at both guard spots and both tackle spots in the first two preseason games. Along the way, he has injected himself into a conversation regarding who might work along the interior, as well as who would best be served to work as the backup swing tackle. He probably won’t start, but his versatility could make him the latest in a long line of offensive linemen who have used the fact that they can play multiple positions as an entry point for more reps. In many cases, that’s led to bigger and better things down the road.
‘I think he’s improved a lot from last year — he’s had a good offseason,’ Bill Belichick said of Devey. ‘He’s worked really hard. He’s a smart guy. His fundamentals have improved. His strength is better. His offseason program was very productive. Harold Nash and Moses [Cabrera] and their program, he really was able to take advantage of that and put himself in a very competitive position.’
Wide receiver Brian Tyms – What’s the wildest part of Tyms’ story? How he was a foster child who bounced from home to home as a preteen? The fact that he lived in his car as a teenager? How he walked on at Florida A&M? Or how he’s buddies with Randy Moss? Regardless, Tyms has gone from not being on the radar screen at the start of camp to becoming front and center as part of the debate as to whether or not the Patriots will carry six receivers this season.
Over the course of the summer he’s displayed a fierce level of competitiveness for jump balls — he’s been targeted almost twice as much as any other pass catcher through two games. He hasn’t missed a practice. And by all accounts, he’s a model teammate who everyone seems to be rooting for. In addition to that, he has some roster flexibility that ultimately could tip the scales in his favor. He faces a four-game ban at the start of the season for using Adderall (according to Tyms) late last year. If the Patriots choose to keep him around (although he wouldn’t be allowed in the facility during his suspension), he wouldn’t count toward their final 53-man roster. That could end up working in his favor.
Ultimately, no matter happens with him, he’s the feel-good story of the summer in Foxboro.
‘I don’t know if you guys feel the atmosphere coming out here on this practice field, but everybody’s serious,’ Tyms said earlier this month. ‘It’s not, ‘OK, this is just another practice.’ Everybody is serious. The level of intensity is high, so I don’t really have time to sit back and think, ‘Wow, I’m missing the first four games.’ The moment I do that, I’ll hear, ‘Hey Brian, sub in.’ And then Tom [Brady] calls a play and I don’t know what I’m doing because I’m thinking about a suspension.
‘I don’t really think about that. I just come out here and try to stay good on my assignments, making all my blocks, running my routes at the right depth and cheering on my teammates. That’s about it.’
Cornerback Malcolm Butler – Hailing from noted Division 2 football factory West Alabama, Butler is a 5-foot-11, 190-pounder who was signed after getting a tryout during rookie minicamp. Like most of the other guys on this list, he made his bones through the first two weeks of training camp because he didn’t back down from anyone and maintained that same competitive attitude when he stepped on the field. In the first preseason contest against the Redskins he deflected two passes, and he also has a pick of Brady to his credit. He got the start on Friday against the Eagles and played roughly two-thirds of the snaps in the win.
‘I think he’s done a good job every day, coming out there being ready to compete,’ Belichick said. ‘He’s a got a long way to go. He’s got a lot to learn. There are a lot of things different here than where he played and who he played against. But that’s all in the past, so he’s just got to take it day by day. He’s learning every day, he works hard and he’s gotten better on a daily basis. Still has a long way to go.’
There’s still time between now and the start of the season, but unless Butler is brutal in the final two preseason games, he figures to at least have the inside track on a roster spot while the Patriots wait out the four-game suspension for fellow corner Brandon Browner at the start of the regular season. That means he’d be the fifth corner for New England heading into Week 1 against the Dolphins.
Running back Roy Finch – The rookie free agent out of Oklahoma has gotten every chance to win a spot somewhere on this roster, and while he may not come away with a berth on the 53-man squad to start the season, it appears he’ll find a way to stick around Foxboro in some form, either on the practice squad or as a result of the Foxboro flu. The 5-foot-7, 167-pounder struggled in the preseason opener against the Redskins, having some issues with ball security while working on special teams. But against the Eagles he had 71 yards from scrimmage (37 rushing, 34 receiving), and averaged 7.9 yards every time he touched the ball. Good numbers for an undersized back.
‘Roy was a player that is good with the ball in his hands. He’s got pretty good quickness,’ Patriots personnel chief Nick Caserio said earlier this summer. ‘When a guy is maybe a little bit smaller at one position relative to the other, you look for maybe a skill that separates themselves. In Roy, [that's an] ability to move laterally. He was good with the ball in his hands. They played a lot of running backs at Oklahoma and when he got touches he was able to make some plays in space.’