NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
Not much was known about Casey Walker when the New England Patriots claimed him off the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad.
He was the corresponding move to defensive tackle Sealver Siliga landing on short-term injured reserve. He was big, listed at 6’1” and 334 pounds. And he was a 2013 undrafted free agent by way of Oklahoma, where he played 33 in games, started 22, and finished with 49 tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles, two fumbles recoveries and two pass deflections.
For the rest, you’d have to dig a little deeper.
Walker did not have a Wikipedia page, nor did he have an NFL tackle on his resume. The 24-year-old had spent part of the 2013 season on Carolina’s practice squad, and returned for the 2014 preseason. He logged 95 snaps over the course of it, and received the fifth lowest Pro Football Focus grade among the Panthers’ 39 participating defenders.
Walker was waived during 53-man roster cuts on Aug. 30, subsequently rejoining the team’s 10-man roster after clearing waivers the following day. But there were no expectations when the Patriots filled the active roster with him on Sept. 27.
Even so, he has done his part to exceed the status of an enigma since then.
It began on Oct. 5 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Garland, Texas native was suited up for his first career regular-season game. And on a 2nd-and-10 in the second quarter, he proceeded to record his first regular-season tackle, shooting the gap vacated by Cincinnati’s pulling guard to slam rookie halfback Jeremy Hill down for a four-yard loss.
No. 98 played 14 snaps versus the Bengals in Week 5, filtering in with the likes of Vince Wilfork, first-round pick Dominique Easley, Chris Jones and Joe Vellano. He held his own when called upon in the rotation, leaning on his size and pad level to get underneath blocks as well as the offensive backfield.
He was not easily moved off the line of scrimmage in his Patriots debut. And leading up to Week 6, when cornerback Brandon Browner and wide receiver Brian Tyms were activated from their suspensions, he was not moved off the roster.
Perhaps it was positional need, as Vellano – weighing some 30 pounds lighter, and not in the mold of a stout run defender – was waived along with wideout Kenbrell Thompkins. Perhaps it was the shoulder injury suffered by Easley, which forced him to leave the Bengals game.
Perhaps it was something else.
But Walker stayed in the fold for Week 7, and he stayed in the game for an expanded sample size of 33 plays. Along the way, he was met by double teams, including a 1st-and-10 at the end of the first quarter.
The mobility for a man of his magnitude was not there on every down. The collective gap integrity of New England’s defensive line wasn’t there consistently, either. Yet as Bills quarterback Kyle Orton stepped up and tossed a shovel pass to halfback Fred Jackson for a gain of eight, Walker rolled out of engagement shipped downfield as the ball-carrier cut back.
He closed the door.
Walker did so in another fashion on a 1st-and-goal later in the second quarter against Buffalo, occupying both A-gaps. He stood up center Eric Wood at the snap, in turn, congesting the lanes for Jackson to drive through following the exchange.
Then, he finished what he started.
The second-year pro did so one more time against the Bills, aligning as the nose tackle in a three-man front on 1st-and-10. With he and Wilfork manning the middle and strong side, respectively, the Bills returned to the run with Jackson, who was set to split the difference in the midst of the third quarter.
It was a task neither simple in theory, nor practice. Jackson pivoted and veered into the right side of the line. Walker grabbed him at the point of attack, and Wilfork stepped in front to ensure the 33-year-old rusher would not rush for more.
The end result was no gain.
He is aiming to be a part of more of those results moving forward. The next chance for him to do so is Thursday night at Gillette Stadium against the New York Jets.
Moving forward, Walker may not be able to replicate Siliga’s role as a two-gapper or pocket-pusher. He may not be able to replicate what he has done in his first two showings in a Patriots uniform. He may not be more than a stopgap in a game of attrition. But what he’s shown through the early stages of his tenure in Foxborough is more than what was forecasted only three weeks ago.
He is in the process of making his own name. And even a Wikipedia page has come along with it.