FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who has a notable history of experimenting with players in different positions, has thinned out the team’s quarterback depth chart by switching former LSU starter Danny Etling to wide receiver.
The Patriots selected Etling in the seventh round of the 2018 draft, and he spent his rookie season on the practice squad.
Hill’s dual quarterback/H-back role with the New Orleans Saints created a challenge for opposing defenses in 2018, as the Saints ran 175 snaps with two quarterbacks on the field. The possibility of the Patriots doing something similar with Tom Brady and Etling seems like a long shot, but training camp is a time for experimentation.
“Everyone has a lot of different roles on this team, and I’m no exception,” said Etling, who was a four-star quarterback recruit coming out of Terre Haute, Indiana. “I’m excited to continue to keep trying to find a different role for myself and do whatever the coaches ask me to do.”
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Etling also took practice repetitions on special teams Thursday, which is another area in which Hill (6-2, 221) contributes to the Saints. That’s also how Julian Edelman initially made the Patriots’ roster as a rookie in 2009 when he was transitioning from college quarterback at Kent State to wide receiver/punt returner in the NFL.
Edelman also played cornerback early in his career, a position switch that other Patriots receivers have made under Belichick, such as team Hall of Famer Troy Brown. Belichick also famously had quarterback Doug Flutie attempt a drop kick in the 2005 season.
In Thursday’s practice, Etling still wore his No. 5 jersey, but the difference was that it was no longer the color red, which is what quarterbacks wear to signify they are not to be hit.
Video: Seeing Danny Etling work as a WR – and not a QB – was one of the surprise stories from the first day of training camp. pic.twitter.com/tcGPKDeW5e
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) July 26, 2019
The current Patriots quarterback depth chart was bolstered when the team selected Auburn‘s Jarrett Stidham in the fourth round of the 2019 draft (No. 133 overall). With Brady, veteran Brian Hoyer and Stidham locked into the top three spots, Etling was pushed down a notch.
Part of what initially drew the Patriots to Etling as a rookie was his decision-making. As a senior at LSU, he completed 165 of 275 pass attempts for 2,463 yards, with 16 touchdowns and just two interceptions. In his rookie NFL season on the team’s practice squad, Etling traveled to road games — which is not the norm for practice-squad players — and helped on the sidelines.
Etling said he’s never played receiver before, but with the Patriots transitioning on offense after the retirement of tight end Rob Gronkowski and with a revamped receiving corps, he’s open to the switch.
“I’ve coached it a lot being a quarterback and I understand offensive football, and it’s helped me get a different perspective of the game itself,” he said.