There was plenty of excitement about the prospect of the Patriots acquiring a new linebacker in April's draft, but not nearly as much about one they signed just before it. When all is said and done in 2008, the latter just may play a much bigger role than the former, at least in the short term.
The Patriots did in fact select a long overdue linebacker -- actually three with first-round pick Jerod Mayo, third-rounder Shawn Crable and sixth-rounder Bo Ruud -- in April's draft. Mayo, the 6-1, 242-pounder out of Tennessee, figures to be a fixture in New England for years to come with his speed and athleticism.
But roughly three weeks before the draft, back on April 7, few eyebrows were raised when the Patriots inked former Jets linebacker Victor Hobson to a one-year deal.
"Victor is a good young player with considerable playing experience," Bill Belichick said in a statement that day. "We are excited about his addition to our linebacker unit."
Few others shared that excitement, however. Despite the fact that Hobson had experience playing in Eric Mangini's 3-4 defense, the same system he'll be asked to work out of in New England, the versatility to play inside and outside plus significant production from his five years with the Jets, there weren't many headlines in Boston papers trumpeting the signing.
Hobson spent much of his time in New York playing on the outside after the Jets took the 6-0, 252-pounder out of Michigan in the second round in 2003. He enjoyed some productive moments doing so, particularly in 2006 when he notched career highs in tackles with 100 and sacks with six while starting all 16 games.
"I just like playing football. I like playing linebacker," Hobson said after one of New England's offseason passing camps. "As long as I get to go out there and hit people, that's linebacker."
Perhaps the reason for the lack of considerable fanfare was his lackluster season in New York a year ago. He finished 2007 with just 62 tackles and two sacks in 14 games. That also could explain why he was still without a job as late as April after many free agents had already signed lucrative deals.
His size would seem more conducive to the inside, a spot he'll get a chance to win a starting job at in New England, where his relative lack of height wouldn't figure to be as much of a problem as it would on the edge. One of the knocks against Hobson in some scouting circles is he struggled at times fighting off blocks from long-armed tackles and tight ends, players he obviously encountered every play on the outside.
"I think the numbers of a guy's height and weight are more evaluated when he's coming out of college," Hobson said. "After a while, the film kind of speaks for itself, and that goes for any position, anybody. Take a guy like Doug Flutie. They said he was too short to play quarterback and he excelled very well. You can take examples all throughout the league of guys who numbers-wise or stats-wise didn't have the typical height and weight for their position, but were able to succeed."
This offseason Hobson has lined up inside and he very well could find himself in a regular season rotation with the venerable Tedy Bruschi and the aforementioned rookie Mayo.
"It's a situation where I've just played where I was needed," said Hobson, who has started 57 of his 76 career regular-season games, recording 343 tackles and 11 interceptions. "That's something I was able to do and adapt to wherever I was able to play in past years. That's what I'm looking forward to doing here. It's just exciting to be a part of this system. It's a great organization. I just look forward to learning as much as I can as fast as I can to be able to help the team."
The 28-year-old Hobson played with both Tom Brady and Pierre Woods at Michigan so he won't be stepping into a completely foreign situation in New England despite crossing the lines of the Border War as a former Jet. And unlike many defensive players who come to Foxborough, he's doing so with a base knowledge of the complicated system he'll be working in every day.
While the team's future at linebacker may be represented in the likes of Mayo and Crable, Hobson may very well represent the present in Belichick's quest to get younger and more athletic on defense.
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