When Jacksonville quarterback
Blaine Gabbert surveyed the Patriots defense as he went under center
Thursday night, the Jags were beginning their third drive of the game
with the ball on their 18-yard line. As Gabbert scanned the field,
Patriots inside linebacker Dane Fletcher stood about five yards away in
the defensive backfield busy looking back at Gabbert and his offense.
Fletcher, the second
year linebacker who was calling the defensive plays for the first time,
saw something in the Jags offensive formation and made an adjustment.
He then raised his arms to make some hand signals and shouted out new
plays. On these signals, outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich motioned from
the right side of the defensive line to the left and Fletcher switched
positions with fellow inside linebacker Gary Guyton to position himself
in the middle of the field.
As the ball was snapped,
Fletcher sprinted to the line without hesitation and shot through the
gap passed the center and quickly wrapped up the Jags ball carrier for
a six-yard loss. Prior to the play, the Patriots defense started the
game slow and allowed two scoring drives to open the game. Fletcher’s
play sparked the sluggish Pats as they took a 6-0 deficit late in the
first quarter and turned it into a 19-9 halftime lead from that point
“It took a few plays. The
first drive was a little shaky,” said Fletcher following the game.
“Getting used to having the control out there for the first game was a
little tough at first. But once I got the hang of it, I thought our
whole defense played pretty well.”
With the cavalcade of
defensive lineman brought into Patriots training camp this preseason,
Fletcher began building a case to make the squad to back them. He
currently sits behind Jerod Mayo, Gary Guyton, and Brandon Spikes on
the depth chart at inside linebacker but his play during the first
preseason game Thursday night showed he could play a key role this
season if one of the starters were to go down. In the first half,
Fletcher finished with five tackles (four solo) with two tackles going
for losses and one for no gain. He did not play in the second half.
Dane Fletcher tackles Jaguars RB Rashad Jennings
8/11/11 Stew Milne-US PRESSWIRE
“It took just getting out
there and finally just playing,” said Fletcher on calling the defensive
plays. “For the first few plays, there’s a lot going on in your
headset, a lot going on everywhere with adjustments ... Once you get
settled in – and I felt like I got settled in after the first drive – I
think our defense played pretty well after that.”
Fletcher, at 6-foot-2, 244
pounds, came to the Patriots last season signing as an undrafted rookie
free agent. He played on the defensive line at Montana State, but
transitioned to middle linebacker when he came to the Patriots. Coach
Bill Belichick said he was satisfied with Fletcher’s growth into the
“Dane has come a long way in
terms of his understanding of the defense, calling signals, making
adjustments and those kinds of things,” said Belichick after the game.
“And the signal calling is really a new responsibility for him, but we
felt like it would be good to give that to him instead of Gary
[Guyton]. Gary has done it before, so just to give Dane that experience
tonight and see how he handled it seemed to go fairly smoothly. We
still got fouled up there a couple times, but overall it was decent.”
Belichick has coached two
other players in his career transitioning from defensive lineman to
linebacker, Tedy Bruschi with the Patriots and Harry Carson with the
Giants back in the 80s. Both players made the transition with great
success. Bruschi helped lead the Patriots to three Super Bowl
Championships and Carson was a 2006 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee.
There are no
delusions that Fletcher will be half as good as Bruschi and Carson, but
there is a chance he can still help the Patriots win this season.
Patriots fans first became aware of Fletcher in Week 15 of last season
against the Green Bay Packers when he sacked quarterback Matt Flynn on
the Packers final drive of the game to help clinch a Patriots victory.
He played in 13 games last season, including one playoff game, and
finished with 23 tackles, two sacks, one interception, one forced
fumble, and two pass deflections.
“Yeah, I’m a linebacker now.
There’s no way I’m going back to D-line – completely,” said Fletcher.
“I feel comfortable as a linebacker in this scheme and whatever they
can use me as. This is a great place for me … There’s a lot we have to
Kevin Saleeba is a frequent contributor and columnist
to Patriots Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has
extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Share
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