In previous years, preseason injuries prevented Rex Burkhead from playing a significant role in his team’s offensive game plan. This summer, the opposite has been true.
Speaking one day after Burkhead recorded 70 all-purpose yards and scored a touchdown in his New England Patriots debut, head coach Bill Belichick praised the 27-year-old running back for his ability to remain on the field since training camp began more than three weeks ago.
“Rex has missed very little time,” Belichick said in a conference call Sunday afternoon. “He’s basically been out there every day, and we’ve worked with him in all areas of the game that we think he can contribute in, which is all three downs offensively and the four phases of special teams that he’s been involved with.”
Though he primarily was a special teamer during his four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, Burkhead is expected to have a much larger role with the Patriots after signing a one-year, $3.15 million contract earlier this year.
Burkhead, who sat out New England’s preseason opener last week, was the star of the show Saturday night, rushing seven times for 20 yards and catching three passes for 50 yards and a score in the Patriots’ 27-23 loss to the Houston Texans. He played just 13 offensive snaps in the game but touched the ball on ten of them, and very well could enter Week 1 as the Pats’ primary early-down back.
Helping Burkhead’s case in that regard is the fact that fellow newcomer Mike Gillislee has spent the majority of the summer limited with an injury. The former Buffalo Bills running back did not participate in any of the four joint practices New England has held and didn’t dress for either of the team’s first two preseason games.
Is Burkhead up to the challenge? His recent track record suggests he is. Before his impressive showing against the Texans, Burkhead carried the ball 27 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns against the Baltimore Ravens in last year’s regular-season finale, his final game in a Bengals uniform.
“Rex is a player that was in the league for four years, had a very distinguished career in college (at Nebraska), had a lot of preseason game action, and then the majority of his regular-season offensive play was at the end of the ’16 season,” Belichick said.
“But like all players in the league, we followed him out of college and then every year in the league. There was a little bit of some regular-season play last season, but we had quite a bit on him anyway. We’ve seen quite a bit of Rex.”
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports Images
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