By Danny Picard
CSNNE.com Staff Reporter Follow @dannypicard
FOXBORO -- Second-year linebacker Dane Fletcher could get some moreplaying time in the near future, now that Jerod Mayo is expected to miss an extended period of time with a sprained MCL.
On Monday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick commended Fletcher on theimprovements he made from his rookie season.
Belichicks obvious confidence in Fletcher most likely meansmore playing time in Mayos absence.
I think Danes taken a big jump from where he was lastyear, said Belichick. Last year he came in as really a defensive lineman, andmade an impact for us in the kicking game. At other points in the year, he didsome things situationally, on defense.
But this year, he came in and played inside linebackerright from the beginning of the year. Hes way ahead of where he was last year.Theres really no comparison. He had a good year of experience and hedefinitely built on that. Hes a smart guy. He works hard. Hes in goodcondition. Hes a good athlete. He runs well. Hes physical."
Belichick's a believer, obviously.
We have a lot of confidence in Dane, Belichick said. SoIm sure that whatever we ask him to do, hell try to do it. I have no doubtabout that.
Thats been evident over the last couple of weeks, as thePatriots have used Fletcher on the offensive side of the ball as well, makinghim the fullback in goal-line situations.
Dane kind of has a good feel for that, said Belichick.Its different, but similar to linebackers. Linebackers, youve kind of got tosee the hole. You dont want to fill where your guys are. You want to fillwhere theyre not, and fill in that space. And thats the same space therunning backs seeing.
Fletcher said he has slim to none experience on offense,but did say he played tight end in high school. Either way, hes willing todo whatever Belichick assigns.
If they tell me to go run my face into some people, Ill doit, said Fletcher. They tell you a certain thing, they want you to run in acertain direction and fill a hole, and hit somebody on the way. In a lot of thesame sense, its like linebacker. So far Ive been doing alright at it.
His presence on the offensive side of the ball may bringback memories of former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, who was also used ingoal-line situations. But Belichick isnt ready to put Fletcher on that levelyet.
Youre talking about a guy who might have had the besthands on the team in that group when he was on the field, said Belichick aboutVrabel. Im saying, when Mike was on the goal line, offensively, all theplayers that were on the field, he probably had the best hands of anybody weput out there.
Danny Picard is on twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard.