Practice Squad Player Gets Second Chance

Kyle Eckel is more than just another name on the practice squad, he represents a possible replacement for Heath Evans in a couple of years. The former Navy Midshipman joined the Patriots in 2005 to take his first step into the NFL. When the Dolphins claimed him, but didn't fully utilize his talents, Eckel's future appeared in doubt. Now that he's back, he has another chance to shine.

Eckel's Return A Positive Step
By Kevin Saleeba, Patriots Insider
September 5, 2007

FOXBORO - A familiar face has landed on the New England Patriots 2007 practice squad.

Fullback Kyle Eckel, who opened some eyes during the 2005 training camp, has returned to the Patriots on the practice squad this week. He was originally signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent and played four preseason games in 2005 prior to being cut. He spent the 2005 and 2006 seasons with the Miami Dolphins.

Eckel, a 250-pound fullback out of Navy, finished his first NFL preseason for the Patriots with 20 rushes for 80 yards and two touchdowns and two catches for 11 yards. What endeared him to fans and the media at the time was the bullish way he plowed over opposing defenders to cross the goal line for his two scores. He was also serving on active duty for the Navy while fighting for a roster spot, which also appealed to fans.

Army cadets chase Navy fullback Kyle Eckel (32) as he carries the ball 23 yard for a touchdown in the second quarter Saturday, Dec. 4, 2004, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy)

"It's tough. I'm balancing a lot of things," Eckel told the media during the 2005 camp. "The guys I graduated the Naval Academy with don't get a lot of free time, but the free time they've had since we graduated they've spent doing things and I was here working out in mini-camp and training camp. That's where I spent my leave." At the same time, when the Pats were on their break, "I was at the Naval Academy. It's kind of been all work, no play. It's been pretty intense for the last month or two, and I don't expect it to die down any time soon. But at the same time, this is what I want to do and I don't want to eliminate any possibilities."

The Patriots released Eckel as part of their final round of roster cuts with the hope to sneak him onto the practices squad in 2005, but he was claimed by Miami and remained property of the Dolphins since Eckel was placed on the reserve/military list. He was given his release from active duty in the armed forces last October.

According to the Miami Herald, a spokesman for the Navy described the separation as an involuntary "administrative separation" from the service, and Eckel told the Herald that he "was given the opportunity to submit a letter of resignation, which was accepted."

Now he's made his way back to New England and he brings a hard nose lead blocking style with a strong ability to handle the ball, especially in short yardage situations. He lacks the speed and agility and pass catching ability of a Heath Evans, but could serve as a suitable replacement if Evans were to go down with an injury.

According to Scout.com prior to the 2005 NFL Draft, Eckel was scouted as a "hard working lead blocker with the ability to handle the ball. Quick out of his stance, explodes into blocks and effectively uses body positioning to seal defenders from the play… [He] creates space as a lead blocker. Gives top effort until the whistle blows."

Eckel attended Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia and was a student and a letterman in football and baseball. In football, he was a two-time first team All-Area and All-League selection and also garnered first team All-City honors as a senior.

Going into his senior year at the Naval Academy, Eckel was ranked as a preseason All-American and the top NFL fullback prospect in the country by draftboardinsider.com. He rushed for 1,147 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior, including handling the ball 26 times for a career-high 179 yards and one touchdown against Army en route to being named the Philadelphia Sportswriters Most Valuable Player of the Army-Navy game for the second consecutive year. Eckel, an economics major, collected 13-career 100-yard rushing games, the fourth most in school history, and became just the third player in school history to twice gain 1,000 yards rushing in a single season. He finished his career with 2,906 rushing yards, which ranks fourth all-time at Navy, and registered 25 career rushing touchdowns, the fourth most in school history.

Filling Out The Practice Squad

The Patriots practice squad also included six other players: WR Bam Childress, WR C.J. Jones, DL Santonio Thomas, OL Clint Oldenburg, LB Corey Mays, and TE Jason Rader.

 

WR Bam Childress (Photo Kevin Saleeba / PatriotsInsiders.com)

Bam Childress provides the Patriots with versatility on both sides of the ball. In his first career NFL game on Jan. 1, 2006, Childress achieved a rare feat. He led the team with three receptions while also recording five tackles as a reserve cornerback on defense. He's played three games during the last two years, spending most of his career on the practice squad. He has five receptions for 39 yards.

C.J. Jones was signed by the Patriots in June 2007. He was last signed by the Seattle and played in NFL Europe before the Seahawks released the 5-foot-11, 195 pounds wide receiver in September 2006. He was a member of the Cleveland Browns practice squad as a rookie in 2003. Jones was a two-year starter for Iowa and caught 72 passes for 902 yards and 10 touchdowns in 24 collegiate games. He added 31 career kickoff returns for 743 yards and as a senior in 2002, finished third on the team with 38 receptions for 468 yards and nine touchdowns

 

DL Santonio Thomas (Photo Kevin Saleeba / PatriotsInsiders.com)

Santonio Thomas, a 6-foot-4, 305 pound defensive lineman was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Patriots in 2005 and spent the entire 2005 season on the practice squad. He was signed to the active roster for the final game of the season, but was listed among the day-of-game inactive players for both Pats playoff games that season. He also spent the entire 2006 season on the Patriots practice squad. He provides increased depth to an already deep defensive linemen corp.

Clint Oldenburg was drafted by the New England Patriots in the fifth round (171st overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft. Oldenburg was an All-State selection as a linebacker and tight end at Campbell County (Wyo.) High School. He received the Milward Simpson Award given to Wyoming's top high school athlete in 2002. He was a three-sport athlete who earned state and regional honors in football, basketball and track and placed second in the state in the discus in track as a junior. He was a finalist for the Wyoming National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame Award and is a two-time All-State and three-time All-Conference choice. He also earned a degree in technical journalism from Colorado State.

 

LB Corey Mays (Photo Kevin Saleeba / PatriotsInsiders.com)

Corey Mays was signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent on May 8, 2006 and was signed to the Patriots practice squad that September. He saw action in eight games primarily on special teams as a rookie after being signed from the practice squad on Nov. 4, 2006 and recorded nine special teams tackles. Mays tied for the team lead in special teams tackles twice and stuffed Jason Simmons for no gain on a fourth-and-one play during a fake punt in the first quarter against Jacksonville in December. He played in two playoff games last season and notched a solo tackle and a forced fumble on special teams' coverage during the AFC Championship game against the Colts.

Jason Rader, according to ScoutNFLExperts.com, is a solid blocking tight end, effective as a pass catcher in the short field. The 6-foot-4, 260 pounder could find a home for a team that wants a blocking-third tight end. He could be valuable to the Patriots if Kyle Brady or David Thomas are not healthy. He was recently signed as a free agent after the Dolphins released the Marshall alumnus.

David Herron was signed by the Vikings as an undrafted rookie free agent following the 2007 NFL Draft. The Patriots claimed him off waivers after the Vikings snagged TE Garrett Mills from the Patriots last week. According to Scout.com, Herron is fairly productive but doesn't truly stand out in any one area. He has athletic limitations in the open field, particularly for a Cover-2 linebacker… Tough, run-defending two-down linebacker, flows to the action, wedges his way up-field and quickly fills gaps in run defense. He's explosive at the point and quickly closes to the action. He's a productive linebacker with a good head for the ball in run defense. Herron has possibilities as a backup in a 3-4 defensive alignment.

Materials from Scout.com articles and wire reports were used in this story.

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