The New England Patriots released offensive lineman Kyler Kerbyson on Sunday to open a roster spot ahead of safety Nate Ebner returning to the team after competing for the U.S. Olympic rugby team in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The 27-year-old Ebner, entering his fifth NFL season, was placed on the reserve/did not report list last month so he could participate in the Olympics.
Ebner missed the first three weeks of training camp to be with Team USA Rugby. Ebner scored a five-point try in a 26-0 win last week, the only win of the Rio games for the Americans, who finished in ninth place.
Ebner was an All-American rugby player at Ohio State before the Patriots selected him in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick supported Ebner’s pursuit of his Olympic dream and said he trusted him to be ready when the season starts.
“Football. Not training. Football. He hasn’t played football,” Belichick said Sunday when asked what the biggest adjustment for Ebner will be. “You can go out there and run around a track all you want, but put 21 guys out there it’s a whole different ballgame. You can’t train for that. You have to have him out there. It’s not his fault. It’s not anybody’s fault. It just is what it is. He just hasn’t played football coming up on eight-plus months, whatever it is. … He has a long way to go. Nobody will work harder at it than he will.”
Ebner, an unrestricted free agent before being re-signed by the Patriots in May, had 13 tackles in 15 games last season. He also had 11 special teams tackles, which ranked third on the team. He has played in 57 games over his four NFL seasons.
Kerbyson, 23, was signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent on July 24. He was a two-year starter at the University of Tennessee, starting at left tackle in all 13 games in 2015 and making starts at right tackle, left tackle and left guard as a junior in 2014.