FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Dane Fletcher views football, and life, differently these days.
Simply surviving the New England Patriots final roster cuts is no guarantee a player will be around for long. And being sidelined for a full season doesn't mean a player can't keep learning the game.
As those cuts were approaching two years ago, the undrafted linebacker asked an assistant coach about his uncertain status. That's when the rookie free agent from Montana State learned a valuable lesson.
"The coach is like, 'Dane, one thing you've got to learn right now is that you never made the team, especially around here. You could be gone tomorrow. Even if you make the team today, you could be gone tomorrow,'" Fletcher said. "That hit home. I was like, 'All right, so I made the team for today and I'll come into work tomorrow.' That's how you look at it."
That optimistic outlook has served Fletcher well, though he didn't have to worry about being among the team's cuts when they reduced their roster from 75 to 53 players — as long as he stayed healthy.
He was expected to see more time on defense and play a vital role on special teams but tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the opening quarter of the Patriots' first preseason game. He was placed on injured reserve two weeks ago.
Facing surgery next week, Fletcher's attitude remains positive.
"Not even to be able to get out there with your guys in the regular season and what not, it hurts," he said. "But, you know, I look at everything positive and at least it kind of happened early in the year, so I have a full year to recover and be back for next year."
The 25-year-old Fletcher started at linebacker for the injured Brandon Spikes against the New Orleans Saints on Aug. 9 and was hurt while running down the field trying to make a tackle on punt coverage.
The next week was a tense one, just as the final roster cutdown day was two years ago.
Shortly after the injury, the Patriots placed Fletcher on waivers, allowing any team to claim him. A day later, he was put on injured reserve.
He said it didn't make sense for another team to claim him because he's injured and in the final year of his contract. Yet he understood why the Patriots made the move.
"I'm not going to lie and say I wasn't nervous for 24 hours," Fletcher said, "just for the fact that you might have to pick up and move, and that'd be a tough transition in that kind of situation."