FOXBORO, Mass. — Tyler Gaffney has never made it this deep into training camp.
The New England Patriots running back suffered season-ending injuries in the first week of training camp during each of his first two NFL seasons. After his first non-contact injury in 2014, he was waived by the Carolina Panthers, who hoped to sneak the sixth-round pick onto injured reserve. The Patriots put the kibosh on that idea by claiming him and storing him on their 90-man roster throughout the summer of 2014.
Hopes were high for Gaffney heading into 2015, but he suffered another non-contact season-ending injury during the first week of camp. Another season down the drain.
He’s back again now and looks primed for plenty of opportunities during the preseason.
“Camp’s going great,” Gaffney said Monday. “Still here, still healthy. That’s all you can ask for, coming off the two seasons that I’ve had. I’m excited to be contributing.”
Gaffney received 17 carries Sunday in the Patriots’ full-team scrimmage. He had more Monday during 11-on-11 drills, working with the first-team offense. He also has proven to be consistent catching the ball out of the backfield, where he has yet to drop a pass.
“The more reps, the merrier,” Gaffney said. “You’re going to get better with the more experience you get, and I’ll take as many as I can.”
Gaffney’s first real chance to shine in the NFL will come Thursday, when the Patriots play the New Orleans Saints in their first preseason game. Gaffney hasn’t played in a football game since Jan. 1, 2014, when his Stanford Cardinal lost to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl. He had 24 carries for 91 yards with a touchdown.
“I’m real excited,” Gaffney said. “This is what you’ve been waiting for as a high school athlete, college athlete. It’s time to put it all together.”
Despite the injuries and the fact that he was cut by the Patriots in April just to be re-signed three days later, Gaffney actually has a chance to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster. Prospective starter Dion Lewis remains on the PUP list, LeGarrette Blount signed a one-year deal with only $100,000 guaranteed, James White hasn’t proven to be able to carry the football consistently, Brandon Bolden is primarily a special-teamer, D.J. Foster and Donald Brown are still nursing hamstring injuries and Joey Iosefa is viewed more as a fullback.
If Gaffney impresses in the preseason, he can make the team, much like Lewis did in 2015 after two years out of football.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images