NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
With a dozen players set to hit unrestricted free agency March 11, the New England Patriots personnel department has its share of influential decisions to make this offseason. But with nine others signing reserve/future deals this January, the to-do list has gotten a little lighter for head coach Bill Belichick and Co.
Reserve/future signings occur before the start of the League Year. Any player not on an NFL team’s active roster at the end of the previous season is eligible. And in New England’s recent memory, it’s been a worthwhile course of action.
New England’s notable reserve/futures from the past include fullback James Develin, defensive tackle Armond Armstead, as well as current Arizona Cardinals pass-rusher Marcus Benard, Oakland Raiders wideout Andre Holmes, Houston Texans linebacker Jeff Tarpinian and Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ross Ventrone.
Some have gone on to have success in Foxborough; some have gone on to have success elsewhere. So while it remains to be seen where this year’s group will end up, all of whom have a locker and an opportunity.
The Patriots’ 2014 reserve/future group consists of six rookies and three first-year players. All eight members of the practice squad reside within it. And the average age is 24 years old.
Here is a closer look at the collection.
Braxston Cave, Center
Braxston Cave started 35 of 48 career games at Notre Dame, where he was a full-time starter since 2010 and also served as long snapper. A redshirt senior in fall of 2012, the 6’3″, 305-pounder found himself on the Rimington Trophy, the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award watch lists. But that April, Cave went undrafted before signing with the Cleveland Browns.
The 24-year-old tallied 57 offensive snaps in Cleveland’s preseason games, grading out as the team’s No. 2 run-blocker, according to Pro Football Focus. However, Cave was waived and subsequently claimed by New England on Sept. 1. Four days later he was released from the 53-man roster and joined the practice squad Sept. 7.
Cave is one of three New England linemen with extensive experience at center. He is taking a similar developmental path as starting center Ryan Wendell, who is headed for free agency.
Jordan Devey, Offensive Tackle
Jordan Devey did not play high school football after battling through Osgood-Schlatters in middle school. But as his knee complications dissolved, Devey opted to return to the game after serving an LDS mission. He enrolled at Snow College, where he lined up on the left side of the line.
He was a 6’6”, 317-pound standout at the two-year school. And in turn, he got the attention of the Football Bowl Subdivision. Devey transferred to the University of Memphis, where he played every snap and made starts at left tackle, right tackle, left guard and right guard. But after going undrafted, Devey signed with the Baltimore Ravens and logged 80 snaps in the preseason. On Aug. 31, he was cut and signed to the Baltimore practice squad before being let go and picked up by the Patriots.
Devey remained on New England’s practice squad through the end of the campaign, earning practice player of the week honors in Week 16. Although he’s 26 years old, the Utah native provides size and versatility up front.
Reggie Dunn, Wide Receiver
After two years at Compton Community College, Reggie Dunn transferred to Utah in 2010. For the Utes, the 5’9”, 178-pounder’s role varied between wide receiver, tailback and return man. Over his three years there, Dunn caught 31 passes for 355 yards and one touchdown, while also garnering 40 rushing attempts for 330 yards and two touchdowns.
But, most memorably, Dunn ran four kick returns back for touchdowns in 2012 – an NCAA record. He finished his FBS career with a total of five return scores.
Dunn ran a 4.24 40-yard dash at his college pro day, but he went undrafted in the spring of 2013. He’s been a member of the Steelers, the Green Bay Packers, the Cleveland Browns and the Miami Dolphins since. And prior to New England’s matchup with the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round, the 25-year-old was signed to the practice squad in an effort to simulate the role of speedster T.Y. Hilton.
Marcus Forston, Defensive Tackle
A top-tier recruit out of Miami Northwestern high school, Marcus Forston earned multiple Freshman All-American honors at the University of Miami in 2008. But injuries – and consequent under-performance – hindered the 6’3”, 305-pound defensive tackle through the rest of his Hurricanes career. He went undrafted in April of 2012.
Since then, Forston has been a member of the Patriots in both an active roster and practice squad capacity. He played one game during his rookie year while bouncing between the two. And during his second preseason with the team, he led all Patriots defensive tackles in snaps. Nonetheless, Forston was waived during Aug. 28 roster cuts and latched back onto the practice squad Sept. 1.
The 24-year-old was promoted to the 53-man roster in October due to injuries at the position. During that stint, he was inactive for one game, active for two others, making one regular-season appearance and registering his first career tackle against the New Orleans Saints in Week 6. Forston provides system familiarity and depth on the defensive line.
Jonas Gray, Running Back
Jonas Gray amassed 2,614 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns at Detroit Country Day School during his senior year. From there, the running back joined Cave at Notre Dame. And as a senior in the fall of 2011, he rushed for 791 yards and 12 touchdowns before tearing his ACL in November.
The 5’9”, 230-pound one-year starter went undrafted shortly thereafter, signing with the Miami Dolphins and spending the 2012 season on the physically unable to perform/non-football injury list. Gray was waived by Miami during last August’s final cuts and was signed to the Baltimore Ravens practice squad.
And after carrying another Fighting Irish back on the practice squad for several weeks in Cierre Wood, the Patriots signed Gray to a reserve/future contract Jan. 6. Although is the fifth halfback on New England’s offseason roster, the 23-year-old is a powerful runner and an adept short-yardage back.
R.J. Mattes, Offensive Tackle
R.J. Mattes was a four-year starter at guard and tackle for the N.C. State Wolfpack and was named second-team All-ACC during his senior season in 2012. He went undrafted in April before signing with the Patriots as a rookie free agent two weeks later.
Mattes was initially released by New England just 10 days after signing with the team, but he re-signed once again in June. Yet after injuring his ankle in Week 2 of the preseason, Mattes was released on Aug. 24 and cleared waivers, reverting to injured reserve.
Mattes reached an injury settlement with the Patriots. Soon after, though, he was suspended by the NFL for four games. The 6’6”, 315-pound swing tackle was eventually brought back by way of the practice squad on Dec. 30, where he finished the season. The 23-year-old performed well in camp last summer.
Sam McGuffie, Wide Receiver
Sam McGuffie was a highlight reel at Cy-Fair High School in Cypress, Texas, rushing for 5,847 yards and 83 touchdowns on 699 career carries. And from there, he enrolled at Michigan where he compiled 486 rushing yards, 175 receiving yards and four total touchdowns as a freshman in 2008.
Yet after his first year with the Wolverines drew to a close, McGuffie transferred back home to Rice University, sitting out the 2009 season. The track athlete went on to compile 1,057 rushing yards and 1,059 receiving yards over his three years with the Owls. The 5’10”, 200-pound all-purpose runner went undrafted in 2013, signing with the Raiders on April 29.
Since then, the converted slot receiver has also been a member of the Cardinals. He first worked out with New England on Sept. 20 and eventually joined the practice squad Dec. 27. The 24-year-old runs in the 4.3 40-yard dash range and is a versatile, athletic specimen for his size.
Greg Orton, Wide Receiver
Over four years at Purdue, Greg Orton caught 203 passes – primarily from future NFL QB Curtis Painter – for 2,356 yards and 13 touchdowns. He went undrafted in 2009 before signing with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Since then, he’s been a wide receiver for the Arena Football League’s Spokane Shock and Arizona Rattlers, as well as the United Football League’s Omaha Nighthawks. Orton also served two stints with the Denver Broncos between 2011 and 2013.
New England signed the 6’3”, 199-pound Orton to the practice squad the week before the AFC Championship Game. The 27-year-old was once a teammate of Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich with the Boilermakers.
Taylor Reed, Linebacker
Taylor Reed started 12 games as a Southern Methodist senior in 2012, leading the team with 97 tackles and receiving All-Conference USA second-team honors. The 5’11”, 236-pound inside linebacker was a three-year starter for the Mustangs, and he was also teammates with practice squad call-up Ja’Gared Davis.
Both went undrafted last April before signing with Texas-based organizations. Davis first joined the Houston Texans; Reed first joined the Dallas Cowboys. Though, during cut-down days, the 22-year-old Reed met the same fate as Davis. He was cut and eventually signed to the Dallas practice squad Nov. 18.
After being released again, the Patriots signed Reed to the practice squad on Dec. 30, where he remained for the rest of the 2013-2014 season.