Opening day countdowns are great. So are player profiles. Here at Musket Fire, we decided to combine them and create a Week 1 countdown-oriented, jersey number-dictated player profile series. Yesterday we looked at No. 53 Eric Martin, and the day before that it was No. 54 Dont’a Hightower. Because today marks 52 days until the New England Patriots open 2015, we are profiling No. 52, linebacker No. 52 Dane Fletcher.
Signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2010, Fletcher is a veteran of five NFL seasons (though his third season was wiped out by injury). Fletcher has appeared in 54 games, starting 10, and he’s amassed 79 tackles and 4.5 sacks, as well as two fumbles forced, two fumbles recovered and an interception.
For Fletcher, playing inside linebacker was a new thing when he hit the pros. At Montana State, Fletcher played on the defensive line, so it’s pretty remarkable that he has been able to alter his skill set to fit linebacker. Remarkable enough for Bill Belichick to remark about it to the Boston Globe in 2010:
"Dane’s in a very unusual situation, it’s a short list of players who have gone from being defensive linemen to being inside linebackers that I’ve worked with: Harry Carson would be one, Tedy Bruschi would be two, and Dane would be a third example of that. Most of the time, those guys go from being defensive ends in college to outside linebackers at our level. To take a defensive lineman to an inside linebacker position, it’s a much bigger challenge, to go from a defensive lineman to a guy that has coverage responsibilities, formation responsibilities, to seeing the game from your feet, and from depth, as opposed to seeing it this far away from you, [that is] the guy across from you."
When Fletcher hit the free agent market in 2014, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pounced and signed him to a one-year, $1.2 million deal. However, he struggled mightily down in the sunshine state, never really fitting in to the Tampa defensive scheme.
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It’s clear that Fletcher is one of those players whose talents are best recognized and utilized by Belichick. Out of New England, Fletcher is a mediocre linebacker, but in New England, he has real value as a coverage linebacker.
In case you missed them, here are the profiles for No. 55 Jonathan Freeny, No. 58 Darius Fleming, No. 59 Chris White, No. 60 David Andrews, No. 61 Marcus Cannon, No. 62 Ryan Wendell, No. 63 Tre’ Jackson, No. 64 Chris Barker, No. 65 Jordan Devey, No. 66 Bryan Stork, No. 67 Josh Kline, No. 68 Caylin Hauptmann, No. 69 Shaq Mason, No. 71 Cameron Fleming and No. 72 Joe Vellano.