FOXBORO, Mass. — There’s no two ways around it: The New England Patriots will miss Dion Lewis, and their offense won’t be as high-powered without him.
With that out of the way, the Patriots have a pretty solid third-down back replacement in James White, who averaged 10.3 yards per reception — more than Kevin Faulk ever averaged in a full season in the same role.
White will need to improve his ball-carrying skills in the weeks and, and possibly months, Lewis is out after having a second surgery on his knee, for the Patriots’ offense to remain unpredictable, however. Here’s how White plans to improve his ground game.
“Just working hard out at practice at it,” White said. “That’s when you’re going to get the most work, when you’re in pads, trusting the run reads, knowing what you have to read, just running hard.”
White averaged just 2.5 yards per carry last season. He has 94 yards on 31 carries with two touchdowns in his two-year career.
“It happens,” White said. “You’re not going to be great at everything at the start. You have to be patient with it sometimes and keep working at it.”
It could help that White knows he’ll be the primary third-down back heading into the season, whereas last season he didn’t receive any touches in four of the Patriots’ first five games.
White’s biggest strength is when he’s able to catch the ball in space. He already has 56- and 14-yard receptions this summer for the Patriots in preseason.
“When I get out in a game, I just try and catch the ball first or whatever it happens to be, then just try to make the proper reads, help my blockers out,” White said. “And if it happens to be a big play, it happens to be a big play.”
He hasn’t been able to replicate the same big-play ability on handoffs, however, when he’s forced to make a defender miss in short space.
“Whenever you get those situations in practice, just work on it,” White said. “You can do anything, but at the same time, you don’t want to do too much. Just make a quick move and get vertical and just get the extra couple yards until the next guy gets there.”
Opposing defenses began to sense a pattern when White was on the field last season. They no longer had to respect the run, which made it more difficult on quarterback Tom Brady. With Jimmy Garoppolo under center for the first four games of the 2016 season, the Patriots will need a consistent ground game, and White will likely be a key piece.
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports Images
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