The New England Patriots just lost a key blocker for 2020 in Dan Vitale.
After believing they’d solved their fullback vacancy this offseason by importing former Packers blocker Dan Vitale, the Patriots are now lost once more.
Vitale announced on Monday afternoon that he would be joining other luminaries like Kansas City’s Laurent Duvernay-Tardif in exercising his right to opt out of the 2020 season for safety reasons.
Additionally, the team will be without former UCLA guard Najee Toran.
Following a 2019 season that dissolved partially because of a lack of effective run-blocking, and featured all hands on deck at the fullback position after James Develin and Jakob Johnson both succumbed to injury, it appears the Patriots are in similar straits in 2020.
Now, Develin is retired, and Johnson is the leader in the clubhouse, though undrafted BC FB Jake Burt, as well as third-round TE Dalton Keene, will likely fulfill some of these duties.
While it was partially hilarious that converted LB Elandon Harris was pressed into fullback duty last season, and even leaked out of the backfield to catch a TD from Tom Brady, sending defenders into the backfield isn’t a viable long-term solution. Even Harris wasn’t happy with the arrangement, and found little use for the charade.
With the mobile Cam Newton under center, you’d have to hope these concerns are somewhat mitigated, however, as there are plenty of new ways for New England to explore to open up running lanes.
Vitale, long thought to be a Patriots target, caught seven balls for 97 yards out of the Packers backfield in 2019. Odds are, though he was New England’s first player to announce he’ll be skipping 2020, he likely won’t be the last.
Jason McCourty shared his concerns this week about the amount of pitch-perfect behavior he’ll need to see moving forward from his fellow players in order to have any sort of assurance about how this plan will work.
As MLB has learned in recent weeks, approving health and safety protocols is just the beginning of the fight.