Bill Belichick is expecting big things this season from his new running back duo.
Speaking Monday on a conference call, the New England Patriots head coach talked up the skill sets of Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee, whom the team signed earlier this year to complement fellow backs Dion Lewis and James White.
“I think those players are making good progress in our system,” Belichick said. “You know, we all have a long way to go. There are a lot of things that we all can improve on. They’re part of it, but they certainly add some explosive playmaking ability to the position.”
Last Thursday marked the regular-season Patriots debuts for both Burkhead and Gillislee, the latter of whom carried a heavier workload in New England’s 42-27 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Gillislee carried the ball 15 times for 45 yards and three touchdowns, while Burkhead had just three carries for 15 yards to go along with one catch for 8 yards.
“(I’m) glad we have them,” Belichick said. “Glad we’re working with them. Hopefully, we can coach them better and make them more productive.”
Both players were backups at their previous NFL stops, with Burkhead playing primarily on special teams for the Cincinnati Bengals and Gillislee serving as LeSean McCoy’s understudy with the Buffalo Bills. Both showed flashes of potential, however, with Burkhead rushing for 119 yards and two touchdowns in Week 17 last season and Gillislee leading the league in yards per carry with 5.7.
The Patriots lost their top rusher from last season when LeGarrette Blount signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency. Blount rushed for a franchise-record 18 touchdowns in 2016 and became the first Patriots back since Stevan Ridley in 2012 to surpass 1,000 rushing yards, finishing with 1,161.
After dropping its opener in humbling fashion, New England will look to score its first win of the season when it visits the New Orleans Saints this Sunday.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images