FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots, who are one of the few teams in the NFL to still feature the fullback position, sustained a blow to their offense Monday when James Develin was placed on injured reserve.
Develin, who was the AFC's fullback in the 2017 Pro Bowl, had suffered a neck injury in the team's Week 2 victory over Miami.
In a reflection of how he is a key cog, the seven-year veteran had played 41.5% of the offensive snaps through two games. The Patriots promoted fullback Jakob Johnson from the practice squad Saturday.
Teams can bring up to two players back from injured reserve during the season, and left tackle Isaiah Wynn (foot/toe) and wide receiver N'Keal Harry (leg) seem to be the Patriots' top candidates, barring any setbacks. If that is the way it turns out, it would mean Develin's season is over.
Develin's work as a lead blocker was instrumental in the offense morphing into a power rushing attack late last season, a switch that helped spark the team to a Super Bowl LIII victory.
This season, the offense has struggled to run the ball, in part due to a string of injuries on the offensive line.
Captain Matthew Slater said late Monday that Develin is as good of a teammate as he has had in 12 NFL seasons. Slater also praised Johnson, his replacement, for his work ethic after initially joining the Patriots on April 8 as part of the NFL's International Pathway program.
Johnson was born in Stuttgart, Germany, played college football at Tennessee, and spent 2018 with the Stuttgart Scorpions of the German Football League.
When Johnson was assigned to the Patriots on April 8, he faced long odds to stick around.
"He was not on our radar. I don't think we would have ever signed him," coach Bill Belichick acknowledged on Monday, adding that a recommendation by former Tennessee coach Butch Jones gave him some assurance that Johnson would be a hard worker. "I would say he definitely started out as the 91st person on the roster and had a long, long, long way to go. Back in the spring, I don't think anybody ever envisioned him being on the roster at that point, or even being on the practice squad, to tell you the truth.
"But he continued to get better, and certainly his physicality and his toughness showed up in the preseason games and in the preseason practices against Detroit and Tennessee. And so he steadily worked his way into a backup fullback role."
Belichick commended the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Johnson, who is 24.
"What he's done has been remarkable, and in a relatively short period of time," he said. "He puts literally every ounce of energy he has into this job and our team, and he's totally earned everybody's respect. He's a young player, he's got a long way to go, there's a lot of room for improvement, but he works very hard at it."