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Spotlighting potential niche Pats players

7/26/2014

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In many ways for a reporter covering a football team, the initial days of training camp represent a re-familiarization process of players at all levels of the roster.

With this in mind, here is a snapshot of a few Patriots who we're interested to learn more about because they could fill niche-type roles:

LB Steve Beauharnais -- The 2013 seventh-round draft choice out of Rutgers had what was essentially a redshirt season in 2013, appearing in two games for the Patriots. Beauharnais (6-foot-2, 230) has been praised by teammates as a hard worker and film junkie, and he has shown some command in leading the huddle, but remains a wild card in terms of potentially being a viable reserve on defense. That will be key for him to prove to the coaching staff because he doesn't appear to be a top consideration as a core special-teams player.

LB Darius Fleming -- It caught our eye when coach Bill Belichick spent some one-on-one time with the third-year linebacker from Notre Dame in Friday's practice. The 6-2, 255-pound Fleming, who entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft choice of the 49ers in 2012, missed his first two seasons with knee injuries. If he regains the form that made him a draftable prospect in 2012, he could provide depth behind a solid starting linebacker trio.

RBs Jonas Gray/Stephen Houston -- Two bigger backs whose time to prove themselves will come when full-pads practice begin Saturday. Both players have practice-squad eligibility. For a team that lost bruiser LeGarrette Blount in free agency, we're interested to see if power running from Gray (5-10, 230) and Houston (6-0, 225) creates an impression on the coaching staff to have them stick around similar to how things unfolded with BenJarvus Green-Ellis in 2008 (started on the practice squad).

LB Josh Hull -- The five-year veteran from Penn State has the look of a core special- teams player in the mold of departed linebacker Dane Fletcher. He was signed in April after the Redskins, under a new coaching regime, released him. The 6-3, 245-pound Hull runs well and has been competitive in coverage drills from what we've seen through 15 practices (spring plus training camp).

TE D.J. Williams -- Healthy again after missing spring camps with a strained calf, the 6-2, 245-pound Williams has a good chance to stick as a third option behind Rob Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui. An Arkansas alum and the 2010 Mackey Award winner as the top tight end in college football, he hasn't yet emerged in the NFL after stints with Green Bay (2011-12) and Jacksonville (part of 2013), but he has a great opportunity with the Patriots and has flashed at times.