How Fletcher became fullback

October, 4, 2011
10/04/11
9:00
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AP Photo/Steve MitchellDane Fletcher at his more normal linebacker spot.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Dane Fletcher smiles as a reporter relays Bill Belichick's account of how the second-year defensive end-turned-linebacker ended up as the team's short-yardage fullback this season. After Belichick suggested the move came late in training camp, Fletcher is quick to clarify that it was much more a situation of him being tossed into the fire.

"I don’t know about training camp, training camp might be a stretch, that would have given me a little bit of time to plan for being the fullback," the easy-going Fletcher said with a smile. "I'd say maybe the first game or that first game week. If they tell me to run my face into some people, I’ll do it."

And how much experience did he have as a fullback?

"Slim to none," said the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Fletcher. "I played tight end in high school, but that was a long way back for me."

Undrafted out of Montana State, Fletcher earned a spot on the Patriots' 53-man roster out of camp last season. The team took the unusual Tedy Bruschi-like step of converting him from a college defensive lineman to an inside linebacker.

Now, with Jerod Mayo suffering a knee injury Sunday in Oakland, Fletcher could be poised for more work at that spot, but he's kept his plate full playing 10 snaps at fullback this season and establishing himself as a core special teamer on four cover units.

The fullback role? That's just something that arose out of necessity.

"[Fletcher played fullback] at the end of training camp, probably right around the time we released Sammy Morris," explained Belichick. "That was kind of something Sammy had done. We also had used Dan Connolly in the past but of course with [Dan] Koppen’s injury. Also, we had used Ryan Wendell some in the past too, but Ryan missed the bulk of training camp and was inactive for a couple of games there. We wanted to try to have somebody who was active for the games that we actually use there. Dane kind of has a good feel for that.

"It’s different, but similar to linebackers. Linebackers, you kind of have to see the hole, like a [running] back does. You don’t want to fill where your guys are, you want to fill where they’re not and fill in the space and that’s the same space that running back’s seeing. When you get on the other side of the ball and you’re a running back, you’re sort of seeing that same space that you would see as a linebacker -- that’s where you want to go. You don’t want to go in back of your guys; you want to go where they aren’t. That’s sort of the same thing a linebacker does, is to try to see those openings and know that’s where you fit into them because your linemen have the other areas occupied. It’s not the same but if you see what I’m saying, there’s some carryover there. And Dane has adapted to that pretty well. He kind of has a good feel for it because it is similar spacing to what a linebacker has to look at."

Fletcher even got targeted by Brady earlier this season, almost hauling in a touchdown pass out of the goal line set. Asked Monday if he liked the opportunity to catch passes, Fletcher responded with mock incredulousness.

"I love catching the ball, what kind of question is that?" he joked.

Belichick said Fletcher doesn't have the hands of linebacker-turned-goal line favorite Mike Vrabel, but gave him a vote of confidence.

"He can catch the ball," said Belichick. "I don’t think he’s ever going to be confused with Wes Welker or Larry Centers or anybody, but yeah he can catch."

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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