FOXBORO, Mass. — James White reportedly is done for the season, but he still will have a large impact on the Patriots backfield moving forward.
White likely will miss the rest of the 2021 campaign due to the hip subluxation he suffered Sunday afternoon while playing against the New Orleans Saints. In the days since the veteran was carted off the Gillette Stadium field, New England players have been universal in their praise for the 29-year-old captain.
Second-year pro J.J. Taylor, potentially primed to replace White as New England’s third-down back, was asked Thursday about how White has helped him since he entered the NFL. White’s tutelage surely will benefit Taylor and all Patriots backs as their roles increase.
“I can honestly say he’s one of the biggest leaders on the team,” Taylor said of White. “For me, he’s just been showing me the path, giving me tips and just been, like you said, a mentor to me.
“Helping me out when times get tough and keeping me pushing when things are going good, and making sure that I’m staying in my lane and doing things I’m supposed to do.”
Taylor was inactive in Week 1 but played in Weeks 2 and 3, albeit sparingly. His talent both as a runner and as a receiver out of the backfield have been clear since last season, and remain so whenever touches the ball.
However it’s in blitz pickup — something White excelled at — that Taylor must prove trustworthy before he can earn consistent playing time.
“I see a lot of growth in that area,” Taylor said of himself Thursday. “Last year was new for me, being here in this system and learning all the things. And, with time, things get easier. With studying, things get easier.
“I’m just trying to keep moving forward and progressing in that aspect of the game.”
Taylor also has a lot of work to do as a receiver, but he’s made significant strides since his collegiate days.
“I did my good amount (of pass catching) at Arizona,” Taylor said. “But this is a lot more. And, once again, having James White — having all the backs, actually — teaching us how to run routes, how to set people up. … It’s getting better as well.”
Taylor totaled a combined three rushes and two receptions (two targets) the last two weeks. So, he has a long way to go before posting James White-level production.
However, the coaches clearly see a lot in Taylor, and might be ready to give him the biggest opportunity of his career. It will be up to Taylor to make the most of it.
He and the Patriots will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 8:20 p.m. ET on Sunday.