FOXBORO, Mass. — For the second straight game, Jonas Gray had his biggest run of the night negated because of a penalty, but the second-year running back was all smiles after the New England Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers 30-7 at Gillette Stadium on Friday night.
Gray, who looked like a long shot to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster at the beginning of the summer, suddenly received first-teams snaps on offense against the Panthers. That’s a great sign for Gray, who’s competing to serve as Stevan Ridley’s backup.
“Yeah man, it was definitely good. They said they were going to do that in the second quarter,” Gray said Friday night at Gillette Stadium after the Patriots’ win. “I was prepared for it. They did a good job of preparing me this week for it, throwing me in in times I didn’t think I was going to be in the game. It was good, just wanted to gauge where I am with the first-teamers. Good experience to get out there. Kinda funny just to be out there with Tom — kinda cool, man.”
Gray didn’t take the easy route to New England. He tore his ACL 11 games into his senior year at Notre Dame, spent all of 2012 on the Miami Dolphins’ PUP list and all of last season on the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad. The 24-year-old running back came to New England with high praise from his head coach at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly, who has a good relationship with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
“When I first signed here, Coach Belichick told me that Coach Kelly had a lot of great things to say about me.” Gray said. “A lot of the ways that Bill runs things, I think that Coach Kelly got a lot of that from him, and you can tell. Some of the signs, even in here, some of the same signs are at Notre Dame.”
Gray’s impressive performance didn’t show up in the box score, running for 20 yards on nine carries, but he had a 25-yard run called back because of a holding penalty called against tight end Justin Jones. Last week, Gray ran for 98 yards on 12 carries, but he had a 20-yard touchdown run nullified by an illegal block above the waist by wide receiver Josh Boyce.
“You gotta make sure you were doing the right things to get that play,” Gray said. “You really don’t think about it. You move on to the next play. After that happened, I tapped Justin on the butt. I said ‘That’s OK, we’ll get em next play.’ It wasn’t a big deal.”
Luckily, it’s just the preseason and stats don’t matter. Gray’s coaches still will see that he was making the right cuts and bowling over defenders to get those tough yards.
Gray is competing for a spot on the roster with third-year running back Brandon Bolden, who missed Friday night’s game for unspecified reasons. The Patriots cut down to 75 players on Tuesday and again to 53 on Aug. 30. Gray should have one last shot next Thursday night against the New York Giants to prove that he deserves a spot on the Patriots’ roster.