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Ihedigbo living a dream; Sat. camp notes
And, though he can't bring himself to admit it, he used to play for the Jets.
Late Friday, the Patriots signed veteran safety James Ihedigbo to help shore up a position that has become dangerously thin for New England. After reportedly working out two other veteran safeties in the past week, the team chose instead to sign Ihedigbo, who was available as a free agent after the Jets decided not to re-sign him.
On Saturday, just before the final training camp practice of 2011, the club also announced the signing of another local product, former Boston College linebacker Ricky Brown (6-2, 235). Brown also entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie, hooking on with the Oakland Raiders back in 2006. He's been there for the past five seasons, starting 13 of 55 games, racking up 102 total tackles, four passes defensed and three forced fumbles.
Both Ihedigbo and Brown have primarily been special teams contributors, though there might be a more pressing need at the moment for Ihedigbo to step in on defense.
After losing Bret Lockett to a thigh injury against Tampa Bay this past Thursday night, New England was forced to bring in wide receiver Buddy Farnham as an emergency safety to play alongside Sergio Brown and spell starters Brandon Meriweather and Patrick Chung, the only other true safeties on the roster. Meriweather, Chung, and Brown played virtually the entire game against the Bucs.
"He's played safety for the Jets and some nickel and dime with responsibilities on defense and he's been good in the kicking game. We'll see what he can do," head coach Bill Belichick said of Ihedigbo after Saturday's hour-long walkthrough session.
"Wherever they need me to play. I'm just going to go out and bring my intensity, my energy, and the way this game is designed to be played, fast and physical, to this defense," Ihedigbo told reporters after his first workout with his new team.
It's truly a homecoming for Ihedigbo, the 27-year-old Northampton, Mass. native and former UMass product. He entered the league in 2007 as an undrafted rookie free agent with New York. Ihedigbo has totaled just 11 defensive tackles in 37 NFL regular season games, plus 25 special teams stops.
"I'm excited to be a Patriot, excited about the opportunity that Coach Belichick and owner [Robert] Kraft have given me," he continued. "Whatever I can do to help us be successful and win.
"It's a childhood dream to come back and play for the same team you grew up watching."
At 6-1, 214 pounds, it's no surprise which former Patriot this safety emulated as a boy.
"Definitely, I tried to model my game after Rodney Harrison, a physical player who knew what he was supposed to do at all times. A leader.
"Born and raised a Pats fan," he added. "Went to games when I was in high school at the old Foxboro Stadium and said, 'One day I'm going to be playing here.' Lo and behold, here I am."
Having a former teammate on the roster in defensive lineman Shaun Ellis should also help Ihedigbo with the getting-to-know process.
"Great guy, great teammate," Ihedigbo said of Ellis. "Kind of a mentor for me at the old place I was playing at."
Ihedigbo seemed pleasant and more than willing to speak with the New England media upon his arrival, but there was one question he wouldn't quite answer.
A reporter asked, by referencing "the old place" where he used to play, if Ihedigbo was allowed to say the word 'Jets.'
The new Patriot simply laughed.
But when asked if it was difficult to put aside his boyhood loyalties for the past few years, Ihedigbo was happy to oblige.
"It's work, so, you've got to do what's best for your situation," he explained. "And now that I'm in the ideal situation, the place I want to be, it's great."
Ellis off PUP
By appearing on the field for today's walkthrough in a jersey and helmet, the aforementioned Ellis is officially off the active/physically-unable-to-perform list. He'd been on the shelf since arriving in Foxborough earlier this month.
He told reporters after practice that he's been spending his time trying to get caught up on his new playbook, plus lifting weights, running, and other basic conditioning.
Ellis is just one of several high-profile defensive linemen whom the Patriots have brought in this summer to revamp their defense. In Ellis' view, the more, the merrier.
"Oh, it's great. You have a lot of guys who can stop the run and get after the quarterback. There's a lot of talent. Just hoping to be a part of it and contribute as best I can."
Though there will be serious competition for jobs, having so many players at his position will actually be a blessing, he asserted.
"I think that's the key to the season, staying fresh late in the season when it comes playoff time. Rotating is definitely going to take a lot of pressure off the guys."
For more on today's final 2011 training camp practice, please visit the PFW blog.