Few teams, if any, place as strong of a premium on special teams than the New England Patriots. However, for a franchise which typically prides itself on achieving excellence in the game’s third phase, the Pats surprisingly struggled in 2022.
In an effort to help turn the tide, New England bolstered its unit by signing former Detroit Lions linebacker Chris Board to a two-year deal worth up to $6.7 million during the initial wave of free agency. In fact, the Patriots apparently placed a great deal of importance on acquiring the 27-year-old’s services.
“There was definitely an emphasis and priority to get me here, which I really appreciated,” Board told reporters at Gillette Stadium this week. “That kind of went into the whole process of me deciding to come here. I appreciate the respect that I’ve had here so far.”
Perhaps best known by Patriots fans as the player to which Bill Belichick once referred as “the best special teams player we’ll play against,” Board is clearly cognizant of his need to prove himself worthy of the plaudits provided him by New England’s legendary head coach.
“It meant a lot,” Board said of Belichick’s praise. “Coach Belichick knows ball. For him to say that … it definitely meant a lot to me. I definitely look forward to making a lot more plays here and helping us win football games.”
Board began his pro career as an undrafted free agent in 2018 by signing with the Baltimore Ravens. Since that time, he has been a special teams standout, logging 1721 snaps within various coverage units. He is also a capable reserve linebacker, earning 115 tackles, 2.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in four years with the Ravens and one with the Lions.
Prior to facing the Lions in Week 5 last season, Belichick embellished on his aforementioned effusive praise of Board, citing the many positive traits he brings to a football field.
“He’s a very hard guy to matchup against,” said Belichick. “He has a great combination of size and speed as well as experience, instincts, and techniques. It’s all of the above. There are really no weaknesses in the player. You’ve got to figure out how to deal with him. He’s seen everything.”
Accordingly, Board’s signing is expected to upgrade a special teams unit which ranked No. 32 in the league last season by Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. While he is likely to play a major role in their resurgence, he will have a formidable supporting cast — consisting of team captain Matthew Slater, and third-phase stalwarts Cody Davis and Brendan Schooler.
Fortunately for the Pats, Board is eager to get to work on the field alongside his teammates … and in true Patriots fashion, to ‘do his job.’
“To be a strong unit, I feel like everyone just has to play as one,” Board said. “Everybody on the same page. Everybody’s playing fast, physical, aggressive. Everyone’s just playing free. When you get that, all 11 playing on the same wavelength for that one play, there’s nothing but good things that will come from that.”
Board is expected to join several members of the Patriots roster when organized team activities (OTAs) begin May 22 at Gillette Stadium.