FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Belichick has never been one to shy away from putting his mad scientist hat on and trying out players at positions that are foreign to them. Just last season the Patriots saw the likes of defensive back Marcus Jones get snaps as a receiver and former defensive lineman Bill Murray make the change over to the offensive line. So, what does 2023 have in store? Well, it could feature linebacker Jahlani Tavai getting some looks on offense. Or at least that was the case on Monday during the club's fifth training camp practice.
As New England transitioned to full pads for the first time all summer, there was an emphasis on the running game and goal-line work during Monday's session. The Patriots currently don't have a traditional fullback on the roster, which led to Tavai crossing over to the offensive side of the ball and working in that role for a series of snaps. Most notably, he was the lead blocker and paved the way for second-year running back Kevin Harris, who was working as the primary back with Rhamondre Stevenson limited.
After practice, various players acknowledged Tavai's move to fullback during goal-line drills.
"It's cool seeing him doing offense and defense," Deatrich Wise said of Tavai.
While Tavai flexing his versatility is an intriguing development at camp and does help the team on the ground, it's also made his fellow defensive players light up whenever he crosses over to the other side.
"It's always good to see him on the offensive side of the ball because we get to hit him," Davon Godchaux said with a smile. "He's a defensive guy, but playing offense. When I see him over there, I'm like 'Yeah, I get a chance to hit him.' I don't think he got a fullback play yet, but I'm pretty sure he's going to get one.
"When I first saw him go over there and the offensive coaches called him to play fullback, I'm like, 'Okay, we're going to sting your ass now.' It's good to see him over there getting more reps doing something else."
The Patriots have made a similar move to this in previous years as they gave linebacker Elandon Roberts some snaps at fullback during the 2019 season, so this isn't exactly uncharted territory for the team under Belichick. Whether or not this is simply some experimentation during training camp or if the team is prepping Tavai to moonlight as a fullback during the regular season remains to be seen.
Tavai joined the Patriots in 2021 as a member of the practice squad after being released by the Detroit Lions during final roster cuts. The former second-round pick out of Hawaii started 12 of his 17 games played for New England in 2022 and piled up 69 tackles and 1.5 sacks.