Kyle Eckel doesn't know if he'll be a blocker or runner, fill a role on special teams or even make the Patriots roster, but the rookie fullback is pretty sure that if things go well in the next couple of weeks that the Naval Academy will be willing to work with him and the team in regards to his military commitment.
Bill Belichick wouldn't get into specifics regarding Eckel's situation but did say the Navy has indicated a willingness to cooperate.
"I don't know exactly what [his commitment] is," Belichick said. "Whatever it is, [the Navy] will do whatever it wants, but they've said they would do it in a way so that he'd be able to work with us. Basically his commitments would be here and they've indicated they'd be able to work with us."
Eckel, who's opened some eyes with his hard-nosed running style near the goal line during the first two preseason games, later said he'll be stationed in Newport, R.I., if the pieces fall into place and Belichick decides the undrafted rookie is worth keeping around.
But there's still a long way to go for the 23-year-old native of South Philadelphia before any special accommodations are made. Eckel is trying to adapt to a much different style of football from what he played at Navy, where he was the leading rusher as the fullback in the Midshipmen's option attack. He spent the majority of his time with the ball in his hands rather than performing traditional fullback duties like blocking.
"He's doing something he's never really done before," Belichick said. "He's coming from a place where he was the primary ball carrier and that's not really his role here. He has a lot of adjustments to make in his game; he has a lot of new things to learn how to do. He's working hard at them and he's getting better."
It's not surprising to learn that a Navy man is willing to work hard. Since Eckel's graduating class finished up their work late in the spring, he has had very little free time. The rabid Phillies fan hasn't even had time to check out the team's new Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
"It's tough. I'm balancing a lot of things rights now," Eckel said. "The guys I graduated the Naval Academy with – they don't get a lot of free time, but the free time they've had since we graduated they've spent doing things and I was here working out in mini-camp and training camp. That's where I spent my leave.
"At the same time, when [the Patriots] were on their break I was at the Naval Academy. It's kind of been all work, no play. It's been pretty intense for the last month or two, and I don't expect it to die down any time soon. But at the same time, this is what I want to do and I don't want to eliminate any possibilities."
Eckel explained that depending on a graduate's field of study, Naval commitments could range in terms of length of service. Eckel, an economics major, has a five-year commitment, which he says is standard. He also explained that there is a rule in place for a person on an NFL roster where he can petition after two years to serve the remainder of his commitment as a six-year reservist.
Theoretically, if Eckel is in the Patriots long-term plans, the fullback could serve two years in Newport while playing for the team and then possibly apply for a shorter commitment. But Eckel wasn't quite ready to say that was his ultimate goal.
"I don't know if that's the best possibility," he said. "I don't really want to say what the best possibility is because I don't really want to choose. I'm here right now because I don't want to burn any bridges. I don't want to say forget the football thing because I don't want to. I don't want to say forget the Navy thing because I don't want to. Whatever happens is going to happen and I just want to keep every option open."
Left right left
Tackle Tom Ashworth appears to making a strong recovery after missing the last half of 2004 with a back injury. Ashworth was splitting time with Brandon Gorin, his replacement last season, at right tackle but started the first two preseason games while Gorin recovers from an undisclosed injury.
Ashworth rotated between right tackle with the first unit and left tackle behind Matt Light with the second unit throughout the summer. Belichick likes to have his backup tackle have the ability to play both sides, which allows him to save a valuable roster spot elsewhere. Ashworth served as the swing tackle earlier in his career but since becoming a starter in 2003 has played exclusively on the right side. But that hasn't taken away from his versatility.
"He's played both tackles and that's not the easiest thing in the world to do but I think he's done a nice job of it," Bill Belichick said. "Not only being positionally flexible but the techniques of sets on the left side or the right side a lot of times the players you face on those sides are quite a bit different. A lot of times you see more of the bigger power rushers on our right and the speed guys on the left. Tom's had a good camp. He's done a nice job and he looks like he's ready to go."
When asked if defenses have started to move their speed rushers to the (offensive) right side in an effort to better utilize matchups, Belichick said he didn't really see that as a trend because not many teams had defensive ends with strong pass rushing ability that were also stout enough against the run on that side.
He used the Giants Michael Strahan and Carolina's Julius Peppers as examples of exceptions to that rule. Belichick pointed out that Ashworth's ability to play both sides gives him a bit of an edge since he has the ability to perform against both power and speed ends.
"In this league they have guys on both sides that can do everything," Ashworth said. "They have power guys that can rush fast and little guys that can power so [playing left tackle] is just being on the other side really. I like playing in space and being able to move around a bit. There's a lot of space out there at tackle so you have to cover a lot of ground with those guys. They're great athletes."
According to reports, left tackle Matt Light was seen on crutches Monday afternoon and was not on the field with his teammates during the first 30 minutes of practice when the media is allowed to attend. Belichick would not comment on his status, saying that the injury report would be available prior to the season-opener against the Raiders. … Newcomer Andre' Davis, acquired in a trade with Cleveland Sunday, was in uniform and Belichick said the similarities between the Browns system and the Patriots should make his transition easier. "For the first day he picked things up mentally pretty well," the coach said. "We given him obviously some new information and we'll see how it goes today. But I think his football intelligence is good."