FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There was a play in the first quarter of the New England Patriots' 17-16 victory over the Panthers on Friday that is timely to review as it relates to plans to fill the void created by fullback James Develin's broken tibia.
With 2:28 remaining, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui aligned in a two-point stance behind right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and motioned from right to left, stopping behind left tackle Nate Solder and left guard Shaq Mason. As the ball was snapped, Hoomanawanui blocked down on nose tackle Colin Cole, as Mason and center David Andrews released to the second level to pick off linebackers. With Solder turning his defender to the outside and receiver Aaron Dobson blocking down off the left side, it was a well-executed play as running back Brandon Bolden took a handoff and gained 9 yards while running over Hoomanawanui's left shoulder. There was a lot of space to operate.
With Hoomanawanui's block in mind (and how he lined up in a full-house backfield across from Develin on the next snap), it sparks the question of whether he could he transition to more of a fullback-type role.
I asked Bill Belichick that question Monday, and he said some tight ends have made that transition. But specific to Hoomanawanui, he was non-commital.
"There are different possibilities; we’ve talked through different options," he said.
For his part, tight end Rob Gronkowski sees linkage between the tight end and fullback positions, saying "there are definitely similarities."
"Sometimes you see the fullback line up at tight end and the tight end line up at fullback," he said. "It's all about what you can do as a player; you have to do your job. The more you can do, the better off you are. If I ever got called to play fullback; I know I've lined up in the backfield a couple of times and played fullback. It's definitely a position that interchanges and you can play both."
But replacing Develin, who hopes to return in a timeframe of six to eight weeks (some outside observers have opined that's an aggressive timeframe), will be no easy task regardless of who is called upon.
"He's definitely going to be missed. He was our thumper," Gronkowski said. "He was a guy that set the tone on our offense and made the big hits and cleared the holes out for the running back. He's a great guy, hard worker, and I'm sure he'll be back in no time because he loves the game and always works hard.
"We've just got to come together as a team and just fill the holes that are missing that aren't quite there yet when people go down."
Perhaps the solution comes from the tight end spot.