By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots’ special teams coverage has been among the worst in the league all season. So Bill Belichick has said “Enough is enough” and started making significant changes on those units.
One day after releasing former special teams regular Nicholas Grigsby, the Patriots have signed linebacker Ramon Humber, according to the Boston Herald’s Kevin Duffy. Humber had previously tried out for the Patriots in the 2016 offseason, but ultimately signed with the Buffalo Bills. He spent the 2016-17 seasons there and played in nine games this season, before ultimately being released last Saturday.
Humber was spotted at Wednesday’s practice, the Patriots’ only session of the bye week before they get four days off, wearing Grigsby’s old No. 50. Elsewhere on special teams, the Patriots recently signed linebacker Albert McClellan and released 2015 third-round pick Geneo Grissom.
Humber played the fourth-most special teams snaps on the Bills over the first nine games of the season. McClellan was also a special teams mainstay with the Baltimore Ravens and played 20 snaps in the Patriots’ 34-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans last Sunday. Humber figures to immediately step in and join McClellan as a core special teamer with the Pats’ struggling coverage groups.
Through 10 weeks, the Patriots are 31st in punt return average (13.1 yards per return) and 29th in kick return average (26.4 yards per return). Belichick acknowledged their issues in his Tuesday conference call, and said that the league’s most recent rule changes haven’t been as much of a factor as their own execution.
“I think we’ve had our moments. At times, we’ve covered well, but as you point out, we haven’t and have probably had more breakdowns in that area than what we are used to having in previous years,” said Belichick. “It’s definitely an issue. It’s an area that we’ve got to continue to work in. I don’t think it’s a rule thing as much as we’ve got to coach it better. We’ve got to play better. The whole operation has to be better. We have six weeks to get it to a high level and hopefully we’ll be able to do that.”
Replacing Grissom and Grigsby with McClellan and Humber may not seem like a major shake-up. But to that particular group in that locker room, it could serve as something of a wake-up call. The coverage in those situations simply hasn’t been good enough, and it’s certainly made life much harder for the Patriots defense. The Pats’ opponents have started drives at their own 31 yard line on average, the sixth-worst mark in the league.
Special teams is often overlooked, mainly because those plays span a small percentage of the game compared to offense and defense. But it’s the kind of thing that’s easy to overlook when it’s going well, like it usually does with the Patriots, and becomes much more glaring when it’s not going so well.
Clearly, Belichick is increasing his focus on improving in those areas before the Patriots play the New York Jets in Week 12. It’s one of several areas where the 7-3 Patriots could still improve.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.