Patriots Preseason

How rookie defender is impressing Patriots with his football acumen

Hybrid defender Marte Mapu has been asking "a million questions" at Patriots camp.

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Marte Mapu hasn't seen much on-field action during training camp and the preseason. But he's still very much involved in the New England Patriots' football operation.

While the rookie linebacker out of Sacramento State didn't dress in the Patriots' preseason opener against the Houston Texans on Thursday as he recovers from offseason pectoral surgery, he stayed engaged by shadowing linebackers coach/defensive play-caller Steve Belichick with a clipboard and charting plays throughout the contest.

As Patriots safety Adrian Phillips explained, that responsibility isn't exactly a walk in the park.

"It’s tough, because if you get it wrong, then they’re on you," Phillips, who handled similar duties earlier in his career, told reporters Sunday. "You’ve got to make sure you get everything right and you make sure that you’re by the (defensive coordinator) the whole time. Because if you mess it up, you pretty much mess up the whole play.

"A lot of stuff is riding on you, and if you get it wrong, then it’s going to be a long day the next day."

It sounds like Mapu was a good choice to fill that role, however. The 23-year-old has impressed Phillips and other veterans with his relentless curiosity and work ethic.

"He’s a guy that always wants to learn," Phillips said. "He’s always asking questions. He’s always trying to figure out how he can get better and get the upper hand against the offense.

" ... He has a million questions, and he’s not leaving until he gets every one of them answered,” said Phillips, "and I love that about him."

On the field, the 230-pound Mapu is a bit of a tweener; he's listed as a linebacker but also may play strong safety, following in the footsteps of hybrid defenders like Patrick Chung and current strong safety Kyle Dugger. While Mapu has been in a red non-contact jersey throughout camp, he stood out as a pass defender in Sunday's practice, per our Phil Perry.

Health will be a concern for Mapu until he can participate fully in practices and play preseason games. Physicality was one of his strengths at Sacramento State, so the third-round pick will need to prove that can translate to the NFL level.

In the meantime, however, Mapu looks like he has the potential to be a very intelligent player and a leader on a Patriots defense aiming to fill the void of retired safety Devin McCourty.

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