FOXBORO, Mass. — Running back Mike Gillislee could go from healthy scratch to touchdown machine Sunday for the New England Patriots.
Gillislee has been the victim of a numbers crunch over the last six weeks. After Rex Burkhead returned from a rib injury, the Patriots decided there was no need to activate five running backs on their 46-man gameday roster. So, Gillislee has been the odd-man out while Dion Lewis has served as the top ball-carrier, James White has played his pass-catching role, Burkhead has played on all four downs and Brandon Bolden has been a special-teams ace.
That almost certainly will change Sunday with Burkhead, the Patriots’ recent goal-line back and touchdown vulture, already ruled out with a knee injury. Gillislee sure sounds like he believes he’ll strap on the pads in a game setting for the first time since Oct. 29.
“It’s always great to go out and play the game that I love, football, so I’m excited to be able to dress and be out there with my team,” Gillislee said Friday.
Expect Gillislee to play in short-yardage situations Sunday against the Bills. That’s the role he played earlier in the season when he had three touchdowns in Week 1 and another score in Week 2. He rushed 98 times for 355 yards in the Patriots’ first eight games and didn’t record a reception.
He could rack up some touchdowns against Buffalo, too. Burkhead scored two touchdowns against the Bills in Week 13. The Bills have let up 13 touchdowns to running backs in their last eight games.
Gillislee said he doesn’t feel extra pressure to prove himself this week against his former team after sitting out six straight weeks.
“I prepare hard every week, and I work hard,” Gillislee said. “This week, I’m able to dress, and we’ll just see from there.”
Gillislee’s hard work has been recognized by the Patriots’ coaching staff. He’s been a Patriots practice player of the week after the team’s last two wins for his part in imitating star running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeSean McCoy.
Gillislee said he still talks to McCoy, his former teammate with the Bills. The conversations don’t usually revolve around football but instead about preparing for life after the game.
The Patriots signed Gillislee to a two-year, $6.4 million contract and forked over a fifth-round pick to the Bills for his services as a restricted free agent this offseason. He’s perhaps unfairly been labeled a bust after being a healthy scratch for six straight weeks. He’ll have a chance to prove he’s not Sunday. No pressure.
Thumbnail photo via Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports Images