These Three Patriots Players Can Help Replace Retired James White

The Patriots have options to replace their veteran pass-catching back

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August 11

James White announced his retirement Thursday, ending his Patriots career after eight seasons and three Super Bowl titles.

It was a moment New England began preparing for months ago.

Though the Patriots re-signed White as the veteran pass-catching back attempted to return from hip surgery, they also brought in potential replacements through free agency and the draft.

With White now officially done, here are three internal candidates to take on his responsibilities:

Ty Montgomery
Montgomery signed with little fanfare this spring, coming over from the New Orleans Saints on a two-year, $3.6 million contract with just $300,000 guaranteed. He’s listed as a wide receiver, and most of his recent contributions have come on special teams, as he’s posted fewer than 200 yards from scrimmage in each of the last three seasons.

But Montgomery has consistently repped with Mac Jones and the first-team offense since the start of training camp, and he’s primarily been used as a running back. The 29-year-old hasn’t made many flashy plays in practice, but he’s looked smooth as a pass-catcher and decisive as a rusher.

We’ve compared Montgomery to former Patriots running back Brandon Bolden, the core special teamer who ably filled White’s shoes last season after the latter landed on injured reserve. Do the Patriots want him playing as many offensive snaps and seeing as many targets as White would? Probably not. But he looks poised to at least contribute in that role this season.

Rhamondre Stevenson
Stevenson was going to be a major player in this offense regardless of White’s status. He emerged as one of the NFL’s most promising young backs in the second half of last season, finishing with 606 rushing yards and five touchdowns after hardly seeing the field in September and October.

White’s departure, though, should mean work in the passing game for Stevenson, who took steps to improve in that area ahead of his second pro season. The 2021 fourth-round pick focused on honing his route-running this offseason, including linking up with quarterback Mac Jones for throwing sessions. He also took a more professional approach to his conditioning, shedding weight and showing up to camp “a lot more lean.”

“I can run a lot more,” Stevenson said early in late July. “I just feel better overall. I can’t really describe it. I just feel better.”

Stevenson also has shown pass-catching potential before. Though he only caught 14 balls as a rookie, one was a 41-yard catch-and-run. He also was an effective receiver and pass-blocker in his final season at Oklahoma.

Though New England’s plans for him remain unclear, Stevenson has a legitimate chance to be a three-down player in Year 2.

Pierre Strong
Long before White officially stepped away, Strong was viewed as a potential successor to the Super Bowl LI hero. The fourth-round draft pick boasts breakaway speed (4.37-second 40-yard dash), and evaluators were high on his pass-catching and pass-blocking abilities — two vital traits for a third-down back.

“I think his two best skill sets right now for the NFL are his pass-blocking and ability as an out-of-the-backfield route-runner and explosive player, and then as an interior zone-blocking runner who will deliver on big plays,” East-West Shrine Bowl director Eric Galko told NESN.com in May. “So I think right now, NFL teams maybe don’t view him as this complete, three-down, 25(-carry) workhorse-type running back, but he is one of, if not the best pass-blocking running backs in this entire class.”

An injury kept Strong out of team drills for the first week of training camp, and head coach Bill Belichick acknowledged he fell “a little bit behind” during his absence. That delayed start, combined with the Patriots’ general preference to take things slow with their rookie backs, might prevent the South Dakota State product from immediately contributing.

But Strong was full-go in both practices this week and seems to be already climbing the depth chart. He’s still behind Damien Harris, Stevenson and Montgomery and hasn’t seen any work with Jones and the top offense, but the Patriots are using him in multiple ways, aligning him in the slot and out wide on some reps.

Strong will be a player to watch throughout this Patriots preseason. A Week 1 role might be unrealistic, but if he impresses this summer, he could work his way into New England’s offensive plans before long.

NESN.com’s coverage of New England Patriots preseason is presented by Cross Insurance, protecting your team since 1954.

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