Reinforcements could be on the way for the New England Patriots’ injury-depleted backfield.
Two days after losing James White to a hip injury, the Patriots hosted four running backs — Ryquell Armstead, Dontrell Hilliard, Ito Smith and Artavis Pierce — for free agent workouts, according to the NFL transaction wire.
Armstead (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) spent the last two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, though he missed the entire 2020 campaign due to complications from a bout with COVID-19 that resulted in multiple hospitalizations. The 2019 fifth-round draft pick was claimed off waivers by Joe Judge’s New York Giants in May but cut in July because “the Giants didn?t believe he was physically prepared to compete at the start of training camp,” according to a report from the New York Daily News.
As a Jaguars rookie in 2019, Armstead carried the ball 35 times for 108 yards and a touchdown and caught 14 passes for 144 yards and two scores in 16 games.
Hilliard (5-foot-11, 202 pounds), formerly of the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans, played mostly on special teams in 2020. His best season to date came in 2019, when he rushed 13 times for 49 yards and two touchdowns and caught 12 passes for 92 yards. He was released in August.
Smith (5-foot-9, 195 pounds) was a backup in Atlanta for the last three years, appearing in 35 games for the Falcons after being drafted in the fourth round in 2018. He recorded 63 rushing attempts for 268 yards and one touchdown)and 17 receptions for 75 yards in 14 games last season. Cut by Atlanta in August, Smith spent brief stints with the Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings late in the preseason.
Pierce (5-foot-11, 208 pounds) played sparingly as an undrafted rookie last season, logging 13 snaps on offense and 21 on special teams for the Chicago Bears.
White’s injury, suffered during Sunday’s 28-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints, reportedly is a hip subluxation that will sideline him “indefinitely.” An exact timetable for his return has not been reported.
The 29-year-old was off to a strong start after a down 2020 campaign, leading all Patriots players in catches and receiving yards through two weeks and outperforming his fellow backs in pass protection.
“He’s an outstanding route-runner, playmaker in the passing game, very productive,” running backs coach Ivan Fears said Tuesday. “And James is also extremely smart, very aware, consistent in his blitz pickup as far as knowing who to go to, who to pick up, read the defenses. I mean, his experience level in that stuff is through the roof. So, we’re going to have to get some guys brought up to speed pretty fast to sort of pick up what he was going for us in that role.”
With White sidelined, the Patriots’ backfield currently consists of Damien Harris, J.J. Taylor, Brandon Bolden and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson.
The Patriots also worked out defensive backs D.J. Daniel and Stephen Denmark and wide receiver Anthony Johnson on Tuesday.