Dominique Easley’s rookie season with the New England Patriots ended it earlier this week. But what he had to overcome to get it started was another season in and of itself.
“I think he made a lot of progress,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said in his press conference on Friday. “But the chapter’s closed for this year, so he’ll have a lot of opportunities to make gains in the offseason, like all first-year players will.”
Coming off his second torn ACL during his time member of the Florida Gators last September, the first-round pick was placed on the non-football injury list two days before the start of training camp. And that was a place the 6-foot-2, 290-pound defensive lineman would remain until being activated Aug. 11.
But Easley would not play over the course of the preseason games that followed. He would suit up for the first game of the regular season instead.
The 22-year-old went on to play in New England’s first five games, recording his first five NFL tackles along with his first interception before suffering a shoulder injury would leave him sidelined in Week 6. Yet after one week away, Easley returned to New England’s defensive front.
He returned to help supplant the edge role of an injured Chandler Jones, aligning at seven-technique defensive end. And he returned to help provide third-down pass rush all the way over at zero-technique nose tackle.
His burst and lateral quickness off the snap helped him generate five tackles, one sack, six quarterback hurries and one quarterback hit between Oct. 26 and Nov. 16, according to Pro Football Focus. But the knee issue that surfaced on the injury report in the process worked against him.
After being active for three consecutive games, Easley was ruled out for Week 12 against the Detroit Lions.
His practice participation was managed closely from there on out. And so were his snaps, as the Staten Island native logged just 20 over his two-game return to the defense before being inactive against the Miami Dolphins last Sunday.
He was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Wednesday, as the team made the decision to cut his 2014 season short in the hopes of a full season in 2015.
“The decision we made was based on what we felt was best,” Belichick said. “It’s really more of a medical decision. Followed that advice, that protocol – I think what we did was the best thing. So, hopefully it’ll turn out that way.”