The Patriots have spent the past week in mini-camps trying to get acclimated with the new systems being implemented by Head Coach Bill Belichick and his staff. While that chore has been difficult for almost every player, try putting yourself in the shoes of rookie Casey Tisdale.
The seventh-round pick out of New Mexico played just one year of high school football before moving on to junior college and then playing for the Lobos. At 6-4, 258 pounds, Tisdale is what football personnel men refer to as a 'tweener, meaning he's somewhere in between a defensive end and a linebacker.
That means that Tisdale not only is getting to used to life in the NFL while trying to learn Belichick's complicated defense, but he's also doing so without the benefit of much football experience and a true position to call home.
"It hasn't really affected me because right now I'm doing pretty much what I did at New Mexico," Tisdale said while taking a break for lunch between practice sessions on Saturday. "I've been playing linebacker and defensive end on third downs and passing downs.
"But the defense is extremely complicated. Nothing I've ever been through before. Compared to my college scheme, it's a lot more complicated. I picked it up rather fast. In the meetings I know what to do; it's a matter of going on the field and doing it. Those are two different things. I still make some errors, but the more I do it and the more I think about it the better off I'll be."
Belichick explained that the learning portion of the job is easier than actually doing it on the field. He added that all the players seem to be picking up the system fairly well, but the true test won't come until training camp begins in July.
"The hard part is combining the physical part and the mental part," Belichick said. "A lot of guys can learn something but to physically do it on the field is another story. I understand how to do everything and I can get into shape, but I couldn't get on the field and physically do it."
Tisdale is an intriguing prospect. He has the speed and agility to become an effective pass rusher in the NFL. His best shot at a roster spot would have to be as a special teams player but he's been backing up strong side linebacker Chris Slade all week and expects that to continue.
"It's been pretty good because Coach Belichick's broken us up into two groups so the second group is getting as many reps as the first group," Tisdale said. "It's been a positive because that way I get to interact and actually learn what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong instead of just watching Chris Slade do it all."
Tisdale said that the strong side spot will be a three-down position but with varying responsibilities. On first down, for example, he could be asked to drop into zone pass coverage where he'll take on tight ends and some running backs. On passing downs, he'll be almost exclusively rushing the passer from the defensive end position.
"The more experience you have, the better you are. Guys like Chris Slade who have been in this league for eight years and they pick up the system like that. Certain coverages are pretty much the same and they've been through and recognize situation when they come up. I have nothing to fall back on in that respect.
And as the saying goes, there's no substitute for experience.