Free agency is for all intents and purposes over. The draft has finally come and gone. With the exception of the one day a week that the media has access to organized team activities, there’s not much to go over that hasn’t already been over-analyzed – so with that in mind here is the sixth in a series of historical perspectives at who has previously worn the uniform number of the 2014 additions to the roster of the New England Patriots. Unless noted otherwise all the players listed took part in at least one regular or playoff game in the season noted for the Pats.
Reggie Dunn is the latest member of the Patriots to don the number 14; here is a look at those who have preceded him to wear that jersey over the years during the franchise history of the Patriots.
14 ÔÇô Wide Receiver/Kick Returner Reggie Dunn
- Dunn was signed by the Patriots to the practice squad in January, four days prior to the playoff game against the Colts, when linebacker Ja’Gared Davis was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster to take the place of Brandon Spikes; he was signed to a future/reserve contract on January 20 after the Pats’ season ended. Dunn was originally signed by Pittsburgh last year as an undrafted free agent. After being cut at the end of training camp he spent most of the 2013 season on the practice squads of Green Bay, Cleveland and Miami.
Dunn was an All-American kick returner at Utah, setting NCAA records with five 100-yard kick return touchdowns in his career, and with four 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns. In his three years at Utah he played in all 38 games, with 13 starts at receiver where he caught 31 passes for 355 yards and one touchdown. He is not particularly big (5′ 9″, 178 lbs), but he is definitely fast: he ran a 4.22 40-yard dash at his pro day.
Note: Dunn wore 84 as a practice squad player in 2013, then switched to number 14 – the number he wore at Utah – this spring.
2010-12: P Zolt├ín Mesk├│
- The Patriots selected Mesk├│ with the 150th pick of the 2010 draft, in the fifth round. At Michigan he was All-Big Ten first team and a Ray Guy Award semifinalist, punting for an average of 44.5 yards. Mesk├│ had an impressive rookie season, with 19 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Mesk├│ was also able to boom it away when needed: in overtime against the Ravens he had a 65-yard punt to switch field position, with the Patriots scoring to win the game on the ensuing possession. In 2011 he averaged 46.5 yards per punt with a net of 41.5 yards, which was third best in the NFL. However, in 2012 Mesk├│’s average dropped to 43.1 yards (28th), with a net of 37.9 yards (24th). The following spring the Patriots signed Ray Guy winner Ryan Allen, who then out-performed Mesk├│ in training camp. Allen also cost about $900,000 less in terms of both real money and cap dollars, and unlike Mesk├│ he would not be a free agent in a year – and Mesk├│ was released as part of final roster cuts on August 31, 2013.
Mesk├│ quickly signed on with the Steelers but was inconsistent in Pittsburgh, and was cut after seven games. When Kevin Huber suffered a fractured jaw late in the year, the Bengals signed Mesk├│ for the remainder of the season, and he replaced Shaun Powell in their playoff loss to San Diego. Mesk├│ has visited with Washington and the Jets this spring, but is still a free agent without a team right now.
2008-09: WR Robert Ortiz (off-season and practice squad only)
- Ortiz played his college ball at San Diego State, and he then stayed local, signing with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2006. He was busy in 2007, spending the early part of the year with the Frankfurt Galaxy of NFL Europe, then was with the Seahawks for their training camp, and finished up by playing with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League. The Pats signed him early in the 2008 off-season, but he was released two days after the first camp practice. San Francisco signed him a few days later, but released him as part of their final roster cuts.
The Patriots re-signed Ortiz on May 4, 2009, again released him at the start of camp, on July 23, then once again re-signed him August 23 – and let him go as part of final roster cuts on September 4. After finding employment working as a trainer in a gym, the Pats signed Ortiz to their practice squad in January, as insurance at the wide receiver position for the playoffs. In June of 2010 the 27-year old Ortiz was drafted by the Hartford Colonials of the United Football League, in what turned out to be that team’s final year of operations. In 2011 Ortiz appeared with two of his San Diego State teammates on the ABC reality/game show Expedition Impossible. Ortiz never appeared in any regular season games, but did play in nine NFL preseason games from 2007-09. Two of those games were with the Patriots; he had one reception, which went for an 8-yard touchdown against the Giants in ’09.
2006: QB Vinny Testaverde
- The Miami Hurricane was the first overall pick of the 1987 draft by Tampa Bay. He spent six years with some pretty bad Buc teams during a time when owner Hugh Culverhouse was clearly more interested in profits (thanks to television revenue sharing) rather than victories, and then signed as an undrafted free agent for Cleveland. Head coach Bill Belichick had figured out that the Browns were not going to win a championship with fan favorite Bernie Kosar as his quarterback, and Testaverde took over as the starter midway through the 1993 season. The following year Testaverde was 9-4 as the starter, and the Browns made the playoffs – and defeated Bill Parcells’ Patriots in the playoffs, before losing for the third time that season to the Steelers. The next year the Browns started off 3-1 but owner Art Modell announced the club was leaving Cleveland, and the wheels fell off as the team went 4-12. In his first season in Baltimore Testaverde threw for 4,177 yards and 33 touchdowns, and was named to his first Pro Bowl.
Two years later the 35-year old Testaverde signed with the Jets, and went 12-1 as their starter, again making the Pro Bowl; he had what was his best season of his career, completing 62% of his passes with 29 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. The Jets won the AFC East for the first time since the merger, and made it to the AFCCG, losing to Super Bowl champion Denver; the future looked bright. However, in the first game of the 1999 season Testaverde ruptured his Achilles tendon, and was out for the year. He returned for the 2000 season but was not the same, throwing more picks (25) than touchdowns (21). There was one last highlight though: in a Monday Night Football Game Testaverde threw five touchdowns in the 4th quarter to cap an incredible 23-point comeback victory over Miami. The Jets made the playoffs again in ’01 but went one-and-done, and four games into the 2002 season Testaverde was replaced by Chad Pennington as the starter.
Testaverde reunited with Belichick when he signed with the Patriots on November 14, 2006. He appeared in three games for the Pats, completing two of three passes – including a 6-yard touchdown to Troy Brown in the final game of the 2006 season in a blowout against Tennessee. It was assumed at the time that would be Testaverde’s final NFL game, but he did play one more season for Carolina when injuries to Jake Delhomme and David Carr left them shorthanded. The Pats re-signed him in 2007, but he was released at the end of training camp. Testaverde finished his NFL career sixth all-time (ninth now) with 46,233 yards passing and ranks 10th all-time with 275 touchdown passes.
2004: WR P.K. Sam
- The Patriots selected Sam with the 164th overall pick in the fifth round of the 2004 NFL Draft out of Florida State. In his final year as a Seminole, Sam had 50 receptions for 735 yards, on a team that included Leon Washington and Antonio Cromartie. In his rookie year he was inactive three times and appeared in two games with no stats before being placed on injured reserve with a groin injury. In January the Patriots placed him on the reserve/suspended list, and after missing time to an injury in the 2005 training camp he was released during roster cutdowns. He was in training camp for the Bengals in ’07 and Miami in ’08, but failed to make either roster. He was on the practice squad for the Dolphins in ’06 and Raiders in ’07, and his final NFL stop was with Buffalo during the 2009 off-season.
Sam also played for the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe in 2007, and spent some time in the CFL. He played off and on for the Toronto Argonauts from 2008 to 2011, and was also with the Calgary Stampeders at one point. In 15 regular season CFL games Sam caught 63 passes for 884 yards and five touchdowns.
2003: WR Kerry Watkins (off-season only; camp cut in ’03)
- Despite catching 71 passes for 1,050 yards his senior year at Georgia Tech, Watkins went undrafted in 2003. The Patriots signed him as a rookie free agent, but he was released in August as part of roster cuts. With no interest from NFL teams Watkins headed north, for the Canadian Football League. He ended up playing eight years for the Montreal Alouettes, retiring in 2012 with 515 career catches for 7,431 yards and 48 touchdowns. Watkins was an East Division All-Star four times, and league All-Star twice. With Montreal Watkins won two Grey Cup championships, and was perennially one of the top receivers in the CFL. Watkins had five straight 1,000-yard years; his best seasons came in 2005 (when he had 97 receptions for 1,364 yards and 9 touchdowns), and 2008 (84 catches, 1,178 yards, 10 touchdowns).
2001: RB Walter Williams
- Williams was an undrafted free agent out of Grambling State in 2001. During training camp Bill Belichick called him an “interesting guy” that the team was looking at as a WR, RB and on special teams. At the time of final roster cuts the Patriots placed him on injured reserve; he had suffered a groin injury early in camp. Williams left camp in 2002, saying he was going to retire; the Patriots released him the following day.
The Saints signed Williams in 2003, and cut him at the end of camp. Green Bay signed him early in 2004 and allocated him to NFL Europe. After they too cut him at the end of camp, they signed him to their practice squad. On November 20, 2004 the packers promoted him to their roster, but he suffered a high ankle sprain in practice four days later; he was placed on IR November 29. Early in camp in 2005 he suffered another ankle injury, and was released on September 3. In October he was re-signed, but in November he once again landed on IR, this time with a hamstring injury. The Raiders signed him during the 2006 off-season, but he was cut at the beginning of training camp.
Between injuries Williams managed to appear in three NFL games, with 42 yards rushing on six carries, and one reception for 19 yards.
1997-98, 2000: WR Tony Gaiter
- Gaiter was a smurf (5′ 8″, 169 lbs) who had seven touchdowns and averaged 22.4 yards per catch in his final season at the University of Miami. The Patriots selected him in the 6th round, 192nd overall of the 1997 draft; he was cut at the end of training camp and immediately re-signed to the practice squad. He was promoted late in the year, and spent the final four games plus the post-season on the roster, but was inactive for all but one game where he got on the field for special teams.
In ’98 Gaiter was again cut at the end of the camp. The Patriot re-signed him prior to the week 8 game at Miami, but he was inactive and released three days later. San Diego signed him late that season, and he played five games for the Chargers with 13 punt returns and 16 kickoff returns. The Chargers cut him at the end of camp in ’09, and he was out of football for the rest of the year. The Patriots re-signed Gaiter the following May, and he was released August 14. He bounced back and forth between the practice squad and full roster – he was the original Ross Ventrone, being released five times that year. In 2001 Gaiter was with the Orlando Rage of the XFL, apparently figuring that a league with no fair catches was preferable to being cut and released every other week.
Note: Gaiter wore 14 in 2000; in 1997-98 he wore 17
1975-90: QB Steve Grogan
- Grogan was pretty much considered to be an after-thought when he was drafted. As a 5th round pick, 116th overall of the 1975 draft on a team that already had Jim Plunkett, most figured he would at most be a career backup; it wasn’t as if he had blown people away with his performance at Kansas State. Before his rookie season was over Grogan was the starting quarterback, and he went on to play in 149 games over his 16-year career with the Patriots. Grogan ran for 12 touchdowns in 1976, and NFL record for quarterbacks, and for 35 during his career. He led the team to a remarkable turnaround in his second year in the league as the pats transformed from a 3-win team to a 3-loss team overnight; that club should have won the Super Bowl, if not for the horrendous job of officiating by Ben Dreith in the AFCCG. Two years later he was an instrumental part of setting an NFL single season team rushing record with 3,156 yards; in that 1978 season he rushed for 539 yards and five touchdowns. In ’79 Grogan led the NFL in three categories: 28 touchdown passes a 6.6% touchdown percentage rate, and 16.0 yards per completion; the following season he led the league with 8.1 yards per pass attempt. Grogan was among the top ten in yards per pass completion seven times, in the top ten per pass attempt six times, and among the top five in percentage of passes thrown for a touchdown four times; he is 8th all-time in NFL history in rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.
In 1985 the Patriots were 6-0 with Grogan as their quarterback, and finally won their first AFC championship. At the time he retired he owned most every franchise record for passing, and was 3rd in franchise history in rushing touchdowns with 35, and 9th in rushing yards with 2,176. Grogan was named as quarterback to the Patriots 35th Anniversary team, the All-Decade team of the 1970s, and the All-Decade team of the 1980s; in 1995 he was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. His post-NFL career includes ownership of a sporting goods store in Mansfield; during the regular season Grogan is a regular contributor at PatsFans.com with his weekly post-game analysis and insights.
1970-73: QB Brian Dowling
- Dowling was the quarterback at Yale for “The Game”, that Vic Gatto and Harvard ‘beat’ Yale, 29-29 in 1968. He was drafted by the Vikings in the 11th round (277th overall), but did not make their roster; he spent the year with the Bridgeport Jets of the Atlantic Coast Football League. Dowling spent the next two years on the Patriots taxi squad, and then appeared in 25 games from ’72-73. He completed 29 of 54 passes for 383 yards with two touchdowns and one interception; he also rushed 35 yards and three touchdowns.
Dowling then played for two years with the Charlotte Hornets of the World Football League, and then returned to the NFL with Green Bay. After his playing days ended Dowling became an insurance industry consultant. He is perhaps most well known as being the basis for the character B.D. in the comic strip Doonesbury, written by his college roommate Gary Trudeau.
1968-69: QB Tom Sherman
- Sherman was the starting quarterback at Penn State in the first two years that Joe Paterno was head coach of the Nittany Lions. As a rookie in 1968 he took over as a starter on a team that was clearly rebuilding, in its first season without Babe Parilli as their quarterback. Sherman threw for 1,199 yards and 12 touchdowns in 14 games with seven starts that season, and played in four games (with no stats) under the disastrous Clive Rush before being traded to Buffalo. He only got in to one game with the Bills, eventually played two seasons in the World Football League – passing for 15 touchdowns in 1974 – and one in Canada with Calgary in 1976.
1961-66: QB/P Tom Yewcic
- Yewcic was drafted by the Steelers in the 27th round, 319th overall in 1954, after playing his college ball at Michigan State. He was signed by the Detroit Tigers and remained in their minor leagues until 1959; he appeared in only one major league baseball game. Yewcic switched to football and caught on with the AFL as a 29-year old ‘rookie’ in 1961. He played as quarterback, running back and flanker, but his primary position was punter with the Patriots.
In 77 games with the Patriots Yewcic punted 377 times (2nd most in franchise history), and completed 87 passes for 1,374 yards and 12 touchdowns; he also rushed for 424 yards and four touchdowns.
Yewcic also shares one franchise record with the Tom Brady: the two are the only players in team history to have thrown a touchdown pass, run for a touchdown, caught a pass, and punted. He is also the only Patriot to have played two sports at Fenway Park: his lone major league baseball game for the Tigers was at Fenway against the Red Sox, and he was with the Patriots for four of the six seasons that the club played at Fenway.
1960: QB/P Tom Greene
- At Holy Cross in the late fifties Tom Greene was one of the nation’s leaders in total offense. The NCAA put him on the cover of the 1958 media guide – the first time they ever did that for a player from the east – after having led the nation with 8.2 yards per pass attempt, and finishing third with 1,297 passing yards, and sixth with 11 passing touchdowns. After he graduated Greene signed on with the Pats, and was the starting quarterback in a 28-24 week two win on September 17, 1960 over the Titans – the first ever victory in franchise history. Greene was somewhat ineffective the following week against Buffalo, and head coach Lou Saban replaced him with 36-year old Butch Songin for the rest of the season.
Greene was also the team’s punter that year, totaling 61 punts at an average of 37.3 yards, with a long of 66. He threw for 251 yards and one touchdown, and also had seven carries for 44 yards. The following year he joined Hank Stram’s Dallas Texans, two years before they moved north and became the Kansas City Chiefs. There he backed up Cotton Davidson, who was the team’s quarterback and punter, and saw no action. In 1973 Holy Cross placed Greene in their Varsity Club Hall of Fame, and last summer he was additionally honored by being added to the school’s Football Ring of Honor.
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