FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ once-crowded backfield is looking pretty roomy these days.
Tyler Gaffney was added to the injured reserve list Thursday, and Brandon Bolden, Travaris Cadet, LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis sat out of the Patriots’ preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers with injuries. That left just Jonas Gray, James White and recently signed rookie Tony Creecy to take every snap in the Patriots’ backfield.
Those injuries gave Gray and White an opportunity to prove they deserve key roles in the Patriots’ offense this season, and they stepped up in New England’s 22-11 loss.
Gray ran for 74 yards on seven carries, including a 55-yard touchdown and two-point conversion. White caught four passes for 52 yards, showing fancy footwork Patriots fans hadn’t seen out of the second-year pro.
“It was a great feeling,” White said. “Good to be out there with my teammates, get a chance to go out there and compete with another team, so I just wanted to go out there, make plays and make no mental errors.”
There was a scary moment late in the second quarter when White took a helmet to the leg. It looked like the injury bug had bitten the running back corps again, as White flexed his right knee on the bench for the rest of the half. All was well in the second half, however, as White took the field on the kickoff return team and then came back in on offense.
White is competing with Cadet, Bolden and Lewis for the Patriots’ third-down role left vacant by Shane Vereen. With more games like Thursday night’s, he could be the front-runner.
Gray has more of an uphill battle to a starring role in the Patriots’ offense, since Blount currently sits atop the Patrots’ depth chart. Blount currently is ailing, however, and he starts the season with a one-game suspension. Gray has the foreseeable future, plus Week 1, to prove he should be the starter, not Blount.
Gray’s offseason work should come in handy as he battles for a bigger role.
“First thing first was losing the weight,” Gray said. “I lost somewhere between three to five pounds, and then getting in great shape. Conditioning was a big thing for me, and also in terms of playing, one thing I wanted to do, coaches stressed to me, was being able to beat guys in the open field, taking those 10-yard runs, making them 20-yard runs. Making the first guy miss, so that’s something I’m really focusing on still.”
Gray proved losing that extra weight helped on Thursday night as he ran through and past the Packers’ defense untouched on his long run. Gray was a capable back last season — his first with the Patriots — but his performance against the Packers showed he could be even better in 2015.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images
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