FOXBORO, Mass. — Scout-team running back might be the least glamorous and most painful position in football. For much of this season, Tyler Gaffney has filled that role for the New England Patriots.
A practice-squad player who has yet to appear in his first regular-season NFL game, Gaffney spends each day running directly into the teeth of New England’s starting defense, preparing the unit for whichever running back it’ll face in its upcoming game. It’s a thankless job, but Patriots head coach Bill Belichick clearly appreciates the 25-year-old’s effort.
“(Gaffney) does a great job,” Belichick said Friday. “He’s a smart guy. He’s very team-oriented. If you ask him to do something, he’s going to give you a great look. There’s nobody that takes more punches than he does. He must get punched in the stomach 10 times a day as the defense is trying to take the ball out. But that’s his role. That’s his job. They’re slapping at the ball, they’re pulling at it, they’re trying to punch it out. Half the time they miss.”
Part of Gaffney’s job as a scout teamer is to mimic as best he can the tendencies of the Patriots’ upcoming opponent. Last week, he was New York Jets running backs Bilal Powell and Matt Forte. This week, his model is Miami’s Jay Ajayi, who’s enjoyed a breakout season for the Dolphins.
“Sometimes it’s a ball security thing we talk to him about,” Belichick explained. “Like, ‘This back swings the ball around a little bit.’ Even though (Gaffney) shouldn’t do that, he’ll do it to kind of help our defense for it. Or, ‘This is the way he runs a certain type of route.’ There’s a lot of little things.
“And the players do a good job with him, too. The linebackers, they’ll say (the running back) will cheat on this or he’ll cheat on that or he’s got protection or a certain route or he lines up deeper on certain plays or closer to the line on certain plays. And just as we go through the week, just help each other there.”
Gaffney, a sixth-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2014, spent each of his first two seasons on injured reserve. He’s remained healthy this season but has been on the Patriots’ 53-man roster for just one game: a Week 8 win over the Buffalo Bills, for which he was inactive.
Thumbnail photo via Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports Images