CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Sometimes the biggest news in a third preseason game is when a player who initially projected to a significant role with the team is kept on the sideline, thus potentially putting his long-term standing with the club in jeopardy.
Signed to a one-year contract that has a maximum value of $4 million in April, the eight-year veteran didn't log a defensive snap in Friday's 19-17 victory over the Carolina Panthers in the third preseason game, which is as close as it gets to a regular-season type situation.
Knighton acknowledged that he was walking out of Bank of America Stadium feeling uncertain about his place with the team.
"You're always concerned when you're not playing," he said. "I prepared myself to play, the coaches made the decisions on who they wanted to play, and I'm not going to ask any questions or make any excuses or look for any explanation. I'm just going to get dressed, get back on the plane and see what happens."
When the Patriots signed the 6-foot-3, 355-pound Knighton, he projected as a complement to returning starters Malcom Brown and Alan Branch, while also helping to buy time for 2016 third-round draft choice Vincent Valentine to develop slowly behind the scenes. The Patriots also signed five-year veteran Markus Kuhn, a free-agent from the Giants, to compete for a spot at the position, among others.
On Friday night, with Branch a healthy scratch as he comes back from a week-long team suspension that was lifted one day earlier, the Patriots started Brown and Valentine. Then they went with a combination of Brown and Kuhn.
Knighton was passed over again in the third quarter when undrafted free agent Woodrow Hamilton and second-year player Joe Vellano played instead of him. The only time Knighton played was on the field-goal protection unit.
All of which led to him wondering if he'll be around much longer.
"Human nature, yeah, you never know sometimes," he said. "It's my first time being here, I don't really know how things are. I know this place is a little different than most places. Instead of asking questions, I just do what I'm told and just see what happens."
Having played for Jacksonville (2009-2012), Denver (2013-2014) and Washington (2015), Knighton has talked about how playing in New England's defense with two-gap principles was a change for him.
Asked about Knighton's progression late Friday, coach Bill Belichick echoed those thoughts, saying, "Some new techniques, some new things, different things than what he's been used to. We played the younger guys tonight; we didn't get as much of a look at him. He played a little more last week. I think it's a good competition at that position. We'll have to see how it all plays out."
As for Knighton's feelings about how things have unfolded with the Patriots, he said, "I'm just trying to improve. They have a different scheme from what I played before and I'm just trying to get better at it and just taking it a day at a time.
"I've played a lot of football in this league and I still have a lot of football left. I don't really know what the reasoning was, but I have trust in the coaching staff and trust in my abilities, so whatever happens, happens."