FOXBORO, Mass. — New England Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears’ eyes lit up when D.J. Foster’s name was mentioned Wednesday.
Fears, one of two coaches who predated coach Bill Belichick in New England, is generally exponentially more animated than the rest of his peers. It was mentioned to Fears that Foster had some good moments during Patriots organized team activities and minicamp.
“Yes, he did!” Fears interjected.
The Patriots’ running back picture should be much clearer than it is heading into training camp. Mike Gillislee should be the early down back, James White should handle third-down duties, and Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis should be do-everything reserve backs. If the Patriots feel they need another special-teams presence, then Brandon Bolden also could make the roster.
But Foster could provide a Jackson Pollock-esque splash of paint that alters that pretty picture.
The Patriots liked Foster enough to keep him on their 53-man roster for all but five days in 2016, when he was active for just three games. It was presumed he could be the Patriots’ third-down back of the future until the team locked up White long term this offseason. But Foster’s standing on the team is in doubt after the Patriots added Gillislee and Burkhead this offseason.
Foster will push the issue for a roster spot if he continues the success he had during the spring, when he flashed his speed and pass-catching ability.
“The big thing for D.J. is just the gaining more experience and figuring out what our offense is all about and how he’s going to fit into it,” Fears said. “I hope that he’s ready for that challenge, because we’re going to throw some stuff at him, see what sticks.”
Foster played running back and wide receiver in college at Arizona State, but he went undrafted last year before the Patriots signed him as a priority free agent. He missed most of the 2016 spring and training camp with a hamstring injury, and never quite picked up enough speed to make an impact in 2016.
“He’s an athletic son of a gun,” Fears said. “We always knew that — catch the ball, run the ball. He’s got great vision. Now he’s got to put it all together. He’s gotta make plays. We can say all the stuff he’s got. It doesn’t matter if he ain’t making a play out there. So, he’s gotta make plays in practice and carry that into the games, and let’s see who comes out on top.”
It’s all promise with Foster right now. If he can start making plays, then he should and probably will steal a roster spot. But for now, it’s all promise. What he does this summer will separate him from being a Michael Bishop or Brian Tyms, who never made it past the promise stage, or becoming a Malcolm Butler or Dion Lewis, who took what they showed on the practice and preseason field and made an impact when the games mattered.
It’s clear Foster has a fan in Fears.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images