The NFL unveiled its Pro Bowl rosters last night, and four Patriots found their names on the all-star squads.
Fullback James Develin, a first-time Pro Bowl honoree, shares the distinction with a trio of teammates who are also Patriots co-captains: QB Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski, and special teams contributor Matthew Slater.
While Brady (13th Pro Bowl selection), Gronkowski (fifth), and Slater (seventh) have all enjoyed Pro Bowl recognition before, this marks a milestone achievement for Develin, an undrafted player who converted to the position after a college career at defensive end.
"I was honored. You know, it still really hasn't hit me," he admitted Wednesday. "Just to be considered for it, I truly appreciate it… There's a lot of really good fullbacks out there. You look around on roster and it's a really talented group.
"It's cool to kind of look back on things. It's definitely a proud journey of mine, something I'll always look back on with fond memories."
Players are chosen based on combined votes from fans, fellow players, and NFL coaches.
Slater's election is historic because he has now tied former Buffalo Bill Steve Tasker for most Pro Bowl honors achieved by a special teams player, a feat made more remarkable by the fact that Slater has missed roughly half the 2017 season with a hamstring injury.
"I'm very humbled. Obviously, it's been a challenging year for myself personally, but to have your peers and the coaches that you go against every week and the fans vote you to that, it's a very humbling honor. So, I'm just very thankful.
"There are so many men in this league that take pride in the kicking game," added Slater. "It's kind of a role that goes overlooked by the common fan or just the average Joe watching football, but we believe in it, its importance throughout the course of a football game. Just trying to keep that tradition going."
Of course, since the Pro Bowl is held in Orlando the weekend before the Super Bowl, elected players whose teams are taking part in the league championship are excused from playing in the all-star game. So, as much as they're grateful for the recognition, they'd rather be planning for a trip to Minneapolis (site of Super Bowl LII) than Central Florida in a month's time.
"I mean, that's the ultimate goal. That's what we're working for," Develin acknowledged. "But we've got a lot of football here left. So, the focus is definitely on these next two weeks, getting two wins and carrying on in the playoffs."
"We have the Buffalo Bills this week," echoed Slater. "Big challenge for us."
Britt on board
After his Patriots debut in Pittsburgh this past weekend, Kenny Britt spoke with a handful of reporters about the experience. Today at Gillette Stadium, the veteran wide receiver addressed a much larger media assembly and shared his first impressions of being part of the reigning Super Bowl champions.
"When I got here, the first thing is, I'm like, 'I'm over here with Tom Brady. Come on now. He's the GOAT,'" a smiling Britt conceded.
With other teams he's played for in the NFL (this is Britt's fourth stop), he'd only been asked to know his own job, which, as a big-bodied pass catcher, had been as an outside receiver. Over the past week, though, Britt has been crash-coursing the Patriots voluminous playbook, and one of the challenges, he admitted, is having to learn all the wide receiver positions' responsibilities.
However, Britt added that he's been encouraged by how supportive his teammates and staff are to one another in practice.
"These guys are all about playing for each other, and we need everybody in the building."
Check out photos of the New England Patriots practicing in preparation for their game against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
They didn't quite have everyone in the building available today, however. Two Patriots weren't on the field when New England went out to practice Wednesday. Defensive tackle Alan Branch continues to nurse a right knee injury that he suffered at Miami last Monday night. He hasn't practiced since then and was held out of the Steelers game in Pittsburgh this past Sunday.
At Pittsburgh, running back Rex Burkhead also sustained a right knee injury in the third quarter and couldn't finish the game. Media reports indicate that he has a sprain and could be available again during the playoffs next month.