Elandon Roberts isn’t one of the biggest names in the New England Patriots locker room. But this week, his teammates voted him to be named one of the biggest leaders in it.
On Thursday, the Patriots released a list of the 2019 team captains. Six of the names were familiar when talking about locker room leaders: Matthew Slater, Dont’a Hightower, James White, Tom Brady and David Andrews (who maintains the role despite being placed in IR following a blood clot).
But Roberts? He’s not exactly a star on the Patriots defense. After Hightower, Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy, Roberts may be the fourth-most famous player at his position. The news came as somewhat of a surprise, but represents the way Roberts has grown in the Patriots locker room while not garnering much attention.
On Friday, Roberts went to the podium to address the media — a rarity for him — as part of the acknowledgement for his new role, which was announced at a team meeting this week.
“It was great to be respected on that level,” Roberts said. “At the same time, I’m just out here doing what my job is. Being a captain is just another job to do. Stuff like that, I take it with pride, a respected position.”
The second question Roberts took was about the curious T-shirt he wore to the podium, which bore the text “Darkgrind.”
So, what’s Darkgrind?
“It’s a thing,” Roberts said. “I forgot I had it on. Just something that I go by.”
Roberts started a little sheepish, but soon opened up about the concept, which is a staple of his social media accounts, which often feature #DarkGrind.
Roberts explains #DarkGrind as the sort of grind you experience in your life, where you’re isolated it taking on yourself to keep working. Most of the time, Roberts says, it’s easy to share the struggles that one faces in life’s pursuits. Sometimes, it’s something more personal that can’t be expressed to family and friends.
“Why I’m grinding the way I’m grinding, they’ll never understand,” Roberts said. “It’s not a shot at them. It’s because it’s your own personal grind. So you’re kind of always in the dark with it, so it’s like a dark grind.”
Unlike many NFL teams, the Patriots don’t mark their captains with the big “C” on the jersey. But the way Roberts sees it, that may be a better representation of the leadership in New England. Sure, he feels great about being named a captain, but there are plenty of players on the roster that he sees as leaders, even though they don’t have the title.
“To be honest, I learned a whole lot from the whole locker room,” Roberts said. “Even though you have your team captains, you have a lot of leaders in the locker room.”
Roberts is entering his fourth season with the Patriots, having entered the league as New England’s sixth-round draft choice in 2016. Since then, Roberts has gone from an up-and-coming rookie to one of the team’s acknowledged leaders.
Roberts had long had the reputation as one of the team’s hardest hitters (earning him the nickname, “The Hammer”). But now, he’s starting to build a reputation as more than the middle of a linebacker known for shooting into the backfield.
On Friday, Bill Belichick called Roberts one of the team’s most unselfish and physical players and praised the way he has progressed over his four years in New England, growing in his on-field awareness an knowledge of the game.
“He’s grown tremendously in those areas as well,” Belichick said. “But just as a teammate, I’m sure the players voted for him because of his toughness, his unselfishness, his dependability, his willingness to do whatever it takes to help the team win. You can’t ask for anything more than that.
By being named a team captain, Roberts joins a long line of respected linebackers in New England to hold that title, including Hightower, Tedy Bruschi and Willie McGinest. Roberts’ current linebackers coach, Jerod Mayo, also held the title during his time as a player.
Roberts has been a consistent contributor on the Patriots defense, starting 30 of his 44 career games. However, he’s only played over 50 percent of the team’s defensive snaps once (52.64 percent in 2017). Going into 2018, he will be part of a seemingly loaded linebacker corps along with Hightower, Collins and Van Noy.
He may not get the most respect outside the locker room among that group. But inside, his role within the team appears to be well-acknowledged.