Chris Forsberg/ESPN Boston
Patriots offensive lineman Ryan Wendell chats with reporters Wednesday.FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When Patriots reserve offensive lineman Ryan Wendell got inserted at center for a couple series in Week 9 against the Giants, coach Bill Belichick stressed that he envisioned the fourth-year player as more than just an "emergency-type player," and suggested the team might try to get him on the field more moving forward.
Wendell supplanted Dan Connolly at center for much of Monday's 34-3 thrashing of the Chiefs, aiding the Patriots in piling up 157 yards rushing. According to snap counts logged by analytical site Pro Football Focus, Wendell played a season-high 48 snaps (out of 67 total for the offense), including a handful as a blocking back in goal-line situations.
What's more, Wendell graded out in PFF stats as the second best offensive player in Monday's win (behind only fellow lineman Brian Waters). Wendell is making a strong case for a consistent role, but stressed Wednesday that he's comfortable in his utility situation.
"I feel comfortable in my role," said Wendell. "I feel comfortable doing whatever they ask me to do."
Asked if he had a preference on position -- whether it be guard, center, fullback, or otherwise -- Wendell deadpanned, "No, I just like playing."
Undrafted out of Fresno State in 2008, Wendell spent the better part of his first two seasons in the NFL on the Patriots' practice squad (he did appear on special teams for two games early in the 2009 season). Last year, he got thrust into an elevated role, making his offensive debut against Cincinnati when guard Stephen Neal was injured. Wendell ultimately appeared in 15 games, making two starts in place of Neal to close out the regular season.
Asked Wednesday if he feels like an "established player" in the league now, Wendell shrugged it off.
"I don’t know if you ever get to that point, whatever that point is" he said. "I just know I have a role to play when they ask me to do it and I try to do the best I can."
It's worth noting that Wendell was wearing shorts inscribed with "62o" on them -- a reference to the fact that, as recently as training camp, the Patriots had a "62d" (or 62 defense), meaning he had to share his jersey number with another roster hopeful. Needless to say, there was no "72d" or "70d" that established veterans like Matt Light or Logan Mankins had to share with.
If he keeps up his play, it's likely Wendell might not have to share his digits in the future. He's certainly earned the trust of quarterback Tom Brady with his ability to step right in at center.
"The center-quarterback exchange is obviously most important," Brady said Wednesday. "Because I’ve taken so many snaps from both [Connolly and Wendell] over the years, it’s not much of a problem."