Despite work at fullback, Pats’ Roberts still defense first

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts still considers himself a defensive player no matter how much more time he’s been getting at fullback.

His outfit showed it, too.

“I’m 100 percent a defensive player,” he said after practice Thursday, standing at his locker wearing a sweatshirt that read: “Beware of the Boggeymen” – a phrase coined by linebacker Dont’a Hightower, referring to New England’s top-ranked defense.

“But when it’s this late in the season and it’s playoff time and you’re taking this game like a playoff game, all your players have to be used,” Roberts said. “When I’m on the offensive side, I’m going to do what I can for those guys.”

The Patriots host the Miami Dolphins in the season finale Sunday, and Roberts could see more time with Tom Brady.

With the team’s running game sputtering midway into the season, Roberts was asked to jump over to the other side of the ball, taking a few snaps at fullback in a Week 7 victory over the New York Jets.

In five of the next six games, he had 16 total snaps at the position before collecting 10 and 21, respectively, the past two weeks, with the larger number coming when the team’s running game got on track in a victory over Buffalo last Saturday that clinched the Patriots’ 11th straight AFC East title. Tailback Sony Michel had a season-high 96 yards in the win over the Bills.

“It really isn’t any different,” Roberts said, pausing, before re-thinking his new role. “Well, it’s different. It’s the offense.”

The 25-year-old Roberts has mainly been used against the run and on special teams since being drafted in the sixth round out of college in 2016.

Now, he finds himself in a position that was a trouble spot after fullback James Develin was lost for the season with a neck injury in late September. Develin helped clear the way for Michel last season, especially when the Patriots won their sixth Super Bowl with a victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

Roberts said his approach to his new position hasn’t adjusted the way he’s played – mainly because he’s still hitting people.

“Nah, my mentality doesn’t change,” he said. “It’s going to be how it’s going to be. It don’t change. My mentality is my mentality. It’s not going to change. It’s a ‘Do your job’ mentality. Physicality is a part of the game. So that’s going to come with it regardless.”

But has he taken any kidding from his defensive teammates now that he’s spending more time with the offense?

“They never do,” he said. “They just know what it’s about – it’s a team sport and I’m helping out the offense, but I’m a 100 percent defensive guy.”

Roberts didn’t even get excited when he was originally asked to play behind Brady.

“It was cool,” he said. “It wasn’t like (Wow!). It was ‘If you all need help, I’ve got ya.'”

NOTES: LB Shilique Calhoun (illness) was the only player missing from practice. … WR Julian Edelman (knee/shoulder), CB Jason McCourty (groin), CB Jonathan Jones (groin), OT Marcus Cannon (ankle), LB Jamie Collins Sr. (shoulder) and LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (knee) were all limited. … The Patriots can clinch the AFC’s No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with a win over Miami at home Sunday or with a loss by Kansas City. They beat the Dolphins 43-0 in the first meeting. … New England’s defense is ranked No. 1 overall and can finish the best in the league for the first time in team history.

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