FOXBORO, Mass. — Injuries are an unfortunate fact of life for NFL players. Just ask Rex Burkhead.
The New England Patriots running back has struggled to stay on the field throughout his NFL career, playing a full 16-game schedule in just two of his six pro seasons to date.
Since joining the Patriots before the 2017 season, Burkhead has dealt with injuries to his hamstring, ribs, neck and head, causing him to miss six games in 2017 and eight in 2018.
In an effort to buck this trend in his third season in New England, Burkhead has made a few alterations to his offseason training regimen.
“Definitely,” the 28-year-old said Tuesday at Gillette Stadium. “You learn from your experiences from the past and also from some of the older guys. Like Matthew Slater — he’s been in it for a while now, and (I’ve seen) how he really takes care of his body. So there are things. I remember my rookie year, I think I took, like, one week off and I was right back at it, hardcore lifting right after the season. You learn that’s kind of not the best way to go about it.
“Your body takes some time to recover mentally, physically, and there’s some little things you can pick up on, too — whether that’s yoga, Pilates or things like that — just to make sure your body’s in the best shape possible. When you make it far (in the playoffs), you really have to stay on top of that, and especially here. You understand that your body is your temple and it’s your line of work.”
Flexibility has been one of Burkhead’s primary focuses, hence the increase in exercises like yoga and Pilates.
“I do a little bit to mix it up, to always try to keep the body guessing, make sure your flexibility is on point, because I feel like that helps prevent injuries,” said Burkhead, who also battled multiple injuries during his four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.
“… I’ve done it in the past, but I think I’ve gotten more into it. It’s just something I’ve taken from guys I’ve looked to as mentors that said it’s helped them out a lot as their career has gone on, or even some retired guys saying, ‘This is what I did, and I felt like it helped.’ Even if it really doesn’t, it’s kind of a mental thing, as well. So I figured, why not?”
Burkhead finished last season with just 186 rushing yards and 131 receiving yards, but he played a key role in the Patriots’ playoff run, scoring one touchdown in the divisional round and two in the AFC Championship Game, including the overtime winner.
“It definitely was a fun season, and to finish off the way we did, it was definitely memorable and something I’ll never forget,” Burkhead said. “But it’s a new season now. Our goal is to get back there and be in that position again, and we’ve got a long ways to go. We’ve got a lot of work to put in.”
Running back currently is one of the Patriots’ deepest position groups. Burkhead will jockey for touches this summer with James White, Sony Michel, Brandon Bolden and rookies Damien Harris (fourth-round draft pick) and Nick Brossette (undrafted).