A hip injury ended James White’s season in Week 3. His recovery has kept him away from the New England Patriots in the months since.
But White’s presence — his leadership, his optimism, his smarts — continues to be felt within the Patriots’ facility, especially among his fellow running backs.
“It’s definitely been unfortunate that we haven’t been able to have James physically,” lead back Damien Harris said Saturday in a video conference. “But the leadership that he provided and all the things that he’s done for this organization, the person that he is, the leader that he is, the teammate, the man that he’s been, none of that stuff has gone away.
“Although he’s not with us physically, we know he’s with us every single day. We talk to him almost every day, especially every game day, as running backs. James is still that same leader, that same guy, that same mentor to all of us.”
White is universally respected within the Patriots’ locker room, and he was arguably the team’s best offensive player early in the season. But despite losing him for the campaign in late September, New England’s backfield has flourished of late, with Harris and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson forming a powerful 1-2 punch in the run game and Brandon Bolden giving the Patriots solid production (31 catches on 33 targets for 296 yards and a touchdown) in White’s usual sub back role.
The Patriots lost three of their first four games after White’s injury but have been undefeated since, reeling off six consecutive wins to climb to first place in the AFC East. Harris, who once stated he wants “to be like James White when (he grows) up,” said they’ve been playing for their injured co-captain.
“Unfortunately, he’s just not here with us face-to-face, but he provides the same energy, the same focus, the same mentality, the same leadership,” Harris said. “And I think that’s been crucial to how we approach the game, because you want to play for a guy like James White. Him not being out there, it’s so sad, and everybody knows it, because James is one of the best guys. Forget football-wise; he’s one of the best guys that I’ve ever met. So we all want to go out there and play for him.”
White has played the role of supportive teammate during his rehab. Nearly every Patriots highlight during their current win streak has prompted an emphatic reaction from the three-time Super Bowl champion on Twitter.
The Patriots will be channeling White as they push to secure a ticket back to the NFL postseason. A win over the division rival Buffalo Bills on Monday night could allow New England to leapfrog the Baltimore Ravens and take over the No. 1 spot in the AFC with five weeks remaining.
“We know what he would do if he was out there,” Harris said. “He would play with a lot of toughness. He’s a great, smart football player. So we just want to go out there, keep doing what we’re doing, play for him and take all the coaching we can get from him.”