FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick compared James White to Shane Vereen after the New England Patriots spent a fourth-round draft pick on the Wisconsin running back. White might wind up being even more versatile than Vereen based on his performance in Patriots training camp.
White hasn’t been limited to third-down duty as a rookie, and he’s standing out in goal line packages despite his small stature for the position. The 5-foot-10, 205-pound rookie has experience running between the tackles from his time with the Badgers.
“I did it my whole senior year, so I’ve got a lot of work at it,” White said about goal-line situations on Thursday at Gillette Stadium after training camp practice. “I just — whenever the coach puts me out there, I try to execute the play.”
The Patriots had LeGarrette Blount to back up Stevan Ridley when the starting running back’s fumbling issues started to creep up again last season. The Patriots don’t have an obvious reserve for Ridley this year, and White appears to have the upper hand for that role over veteran Brandon Bolden, first-year pro Jonas Gray and rookie Stephen Houston. Out of every rookie on the Patriots’ roster, White has been the most impressive.
The former Wisconsin back has shown sure hands, which should help the Patriots on passing downs, he was an experienced blocker with the Badgers and he’s shown a tendency for big plays, creeping through the line of scrimmage and bursting his way downfield. Even White’s quarterback has taken notice.
“He’s done a great job since he got here,” Tom Brady said Thursday after practice. “He’s got a real maturity for someone that’s just getting out of college. He’s made a lot of really great plays out here.”
Vereen and Ridley are entering contract years, so White will have the opportunity to audition for both the third-down and early-down roles throughout training camp, preseason and the regular season. Just the fact that White is getting reps with Tom Brady is a positive sign for how the Patriots view the rookie.
“I knew when we drafted him everyone really liked him, so, that’s why he’s here, cause I think everyone thinks he can contribute to the team, and he can make a big impact on the team. He’s done that,” Brady said. “He’s definitely been someone that’s come out every day, and he makes really impressive plays for a young player.”
White’s receiving ability could give the Patriots the flexibility to put him and Vereen on the field at the same time. The Patriots rarely a flashed two-running back look in 2013, but they also didn’t have the right personnel. Both Vereen and White have the ability to split out wide and run routes typically saved for wide receivers.