By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
ATLANTA (CBS) — Ask any member of the Patriots to talk about a teammate, and the same word comes up almost every time: unselfish. Naturally, nobody embodies that characteristic more than the fullback.READ MORE: Blizzard Warning For Potentially Historic Storm That's Likely To Bring More Than 2 Feet Of Snow
Of course, fullbacks generally don’t get to revel in all of the glory. They rarely touch the football, instead tasked with clearing lanes and absorbing (and delivering) punishing hits in order to clear the running lanes for ball carriers or protect the quarterback from pass-rushing threats.
The fullback is the ultimate teammate. And James Develin is the ultimate fullback.
“I think James epitomizes what hard work, diligence, physical and mental toughness, determination — how all of that can result in success and a very successful career,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s done that.”
That Develin is even here, preparing to play in his fourth Super Bowl and 14th playoff game, is a remarkable tale of perseverance. The abbreviated version goes like this: defensive lineman in the Ivy League at Brown, briefly an Arena Football League player, a converted fullback in the now-defunct UFL, practice squad member on the Bengals for a year-plus, Patriots practice squad member for almost a full season, active roster participant, critical member of the Tom Brady-led Patriots offense for five full seasons.
It’s been quite a journey for the 30-year-old.
“I never thought that I’d abandon it. I mean, this is a dream of mine. I love the game of football,” Develin said this week. “I was willing to do whatever it took to make it my livelihood. And I just kind of never took no for an answer, just kept on chugging away, no matter how many doors were slammed in my face. Just kept on going and working as hard as I possibly could. I knew that the cards would eventually fall my way.”
It’s perfectly fitting, then, that Develin ended up with Belichick, a man whose coaching greatness is in large part due to his ability to find talent where other teams have missed it.
“He has a role that’s important, and we have a lot of roles like that, that are important roles to the team,” Belichick said. “You know, it’s not always the guy who scores the touchdown or hits the quarterback or whatever. It’s about everybody doing their part, and he’s very dependable in his assignments. His toughness, his durability, his blocking, and doing other things when he needs to do them, whether it’s catch, run, cover kicks and so forth.”
Of course, the bulk of Develin’s workload is what could be considered dirty work. Running through a hole and engaging a linebacker in order to clear a lane for Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead or James White is certainly not glorious. But it’s a role that Develin embraces, and it’s a role in which Develin thrives.
And to be clear, just because he’s not always the one scoring the touchdowns does not mean that his job is not fun. The work he did to demolish safety Eric Berry on Michel’s go-ahead touchdown run on a fourth-and-1 in Kansas City looked like an enjoyable experience for one of the participants.READ MORE: 'Take It Very Seriously': Gov. Baker Urges Mass. Residents To Stay Off Roads During Nor'easter
Likewise, after the Patriots’ third conversion of a third-and-10 in that overtime, Develin deftly removed linebacker Reggie Ragland from the picture, allowing Burkhead to run for 10 yards untouched.
Two plays later, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, Develin — who can squat 670 pounds and bench 500 pounds — once again met Ragland in the hole. They collided at the 1-yard line. Ragland, who wanted nothing to do with absorbing another body blow from Develin, ended up several yards deep in the end zone. So did Develin, and so did Burkhead, who had the football and a Super Bowl berth cradled in his arms.
Those are, of course, major plays in a major game. But it’s not as if Develin just started to pick up his game in the playoffs. This is the type of work that Develin brings every snap, all year long.
There may not be a stat to prove this, but the film does show that Develin is a major reason why the Patriots are here, once again, playing in the final game of the season. (Perhaps not coincidentally, the only season in the last five years in which the Patriots have not made the Super Bowl just happened to be the season that Develin missed due to injury.)
Still, it’s not as if all of Develin’s work has been unsung. He did show off some soft hands in catching a Brady pass for nine yards earlier in that game. This season, he was trusted with the football in goal line situations, and he came away with a perfect fullback stat line: six carries, eight yards, four touchdowns. He had entered the season with just seven career carries for 15 yards and one score, but he has shown skill as a pass catcher — something not often seen from a player with Develin’s build, and especially not from converted defensive linemen. After catching 12 passes for 61 yards this year, Develin now has 31 receptions for 222 yards in his career. Plus, he’s caught five passes and has a receiving touchdown in his postseason career.
Ultimately, though, the bulk of Develin’s job is doing the work that few can do and few would want to. It’s a thankless job, one that doesn’t result in a flood of interview requests and one that doesn’t earn the spotlight on SportsCenter Top 10 reels.
But there’s little doubt that in terms of following the credo of “Do Your Job,” there may be no more perfect Patriot than James Develin.
“I think he has as much respect as anyone in the locker room,” Belichick said. “He doesn’t say a lot, but he works as hard as anybody, and is a very team-oriented guy who always does what’s best for the team. On a team, that’s all you can ask for from a teammate. And he always does that. That’s why he’s so respected, and I’d say admired. He’s a great example for not just young players, but I’d say every player and person in the locker room — player and coach. He has a great attitude, works hard, does whatever he can to help the team. That’s really what it’s about.”MORE NEWS: Collins, Young Help Streaking Hawks Beat Celtics 108-92