Patriots

Giardi: Look for White to be leaned on more now

Giardi: Look for White to be leaned on more now

The second-most reliable receiver on the Patriots a season ago was actually running back James White. Tom Brady leaned on the former Wisconsin standout quite a bit, especially on third downs and in big moments. Does Sunday, Feb. 5 ring a bell?

White has been invisible this preseason, but it appears by design. Bill Belichick knows what he has - and with Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee and, to a lesser extent, DJ Foster needing reps - White has done his work in practice and left the heavy lifting to others in preseason games. That shouldn’t change Thursday in the preseason finale versus the Giants, especially now that Brady's most reliable weapon, Julian Edelman, is lost for the season.

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 “It’s definitely tough,” said White. “You never want to see a guy like that go down but everybody just has to step up. Julian made a lot of big plays for us in a lot of big situations. As a group, we just have to fill that void.”
 
White’s locker is just a few down from Edelman. In what essentially amounted to a redshirt year in his first season with the Pats, White used to marvel at Edelman’s approach, one that continued to get more maniacal the past couple of seasons.
 
“That guy works extremely hard,” he recalled. “The first guy in here, leaves last, catching tennis balls at 6 in the morning. Definitely valued, and as soon as he steps in here, you see how hard he works and the results show.”
 
White has put in his time to become an important player himself. That’s a far cry from where he was that first season, when he was so lost and so ineffective, former teammates, such as Jerod Mayo and this ex-Pat, wondered why he was ever drafted in the first place. Now he’s blossomed into arguably the Super Bowl MVP.

“Last year ended well, but at the same time, but at the same time, this year is a new slate,” he said. “Nobody cares what you did last year. You gotta get better. You better bring something new to the table. it’s a what have you done for me lately league so you gotta improve each and every week.”
 
To do that requires not just the physical talent but the mental acumen as well. That’s one area where White is continuing to focus on.
 
“I just continue to build and learn more,” said White. “I pick guy's brains, kinda see the defense, see what our defense tries to do to us. I kind of get a feel for everything to be a better football player.”
 
He accomplished that mission a while ago, but there’s seems to be no shortage of desire to continue that trend. With Edelman gone, the Pats will need White more than ever.

McClellin practices with Patriots for first time since training camp

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McClellin practices with Patriots for first time since training camp

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick said it was "a possibility" on Tuesday. On Wednesday, it was a reality. 

Patriots linebacker Shea McClellin was back on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium for the first time since suffering an undisclosed injury that landed him on injured reserve before the season. 

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Belichick mentioned in a conference call this week that if McClellin was ready to practice, then practicing was an option. "If he's not ready," Belichick said at the time, "then it's not an option."

Obviously, it was an option, and the Patriots brought McClellin back as soon as possible based on the league's rules for players on injured reserve. For those who have been placed on IR, they must sit out six weeks before returning to practice. They must sit out eight weeks before playing in a game. Because the Patriots have a Week 9 bye, then McClellin's first opportunity to be in uniform would be Week 10. 

For the first time since players could be designated to return off of IR in 2012, teams are now allowed to bring back two players. 

Patriots receiver Malcolm Mitchell has also been on IR since the day of the season-opener, though he has not been spotted in the Patriots locker room recently. ESPN's Mike Reiss reported over the weekend that Mitchell (knee) isn't close to a return. 

Patriots defensive lineman Vincent Valentine (knee) is on IR as well and could be a candidate to return, but he was placed on the list two days prior to New England's Week 3 game with Houston so his timeline is different from McClellin's and Mitchell's. 

McClellin played in 17 games last season, including playoffs, and he finished the season with the second-most snaps of any Patriots linebacker behind Dont'a Hightower. McClellin has the ability to be a versatile piece for Belichick's defense, with experience both off the line and on the edge, and he has been a core special-teamer.

CBs Gilmore, Rowe missing from practice as Patriots prep for Falcons

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CBs Gilmore, Rowe missing from practice as Patriots prep for Falcons

FOXBORO -- For anyone looking to make sense of the Stephon Gilmore signing this offseason, all they had to do was look at the Patriots schedule. With a slate of NFC South games ahead, Bill Belichick would have to try to find a way to defend Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin, New Orleans' Mike Thomas, Tampa Bay's Mike Evans and Atlanta's Julio Jones. 

All big. All fast. All physical mismatches for most corners. 

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It wasn't the only reason to pay Gilmore as one of the top players at his position during free agency, but it wasn't a bad one -- because it's not just the NFC South. The rest of the league is getting bigger, faster and stronger at receiver and having someone with Gilmore's physical traits for the foreseeable future seemed like a logical desire to act on. 

But will Gilmore be available for when the Patriots welcome Jones and the Falcons to Gillette Stadium this weekend? After missing Sunday's game against the Jets with a concussion, Gilmore was not present for the start of Wednesday's practice. New England's other long, athletic corner Eric Rowe -- who hasn't practiced or played since aggravating a groin issue in Week 4 -- was also missing from the practice. 

Though there's still time for both players to get back on the field for Week 7, if neither is able to go it would leave Malcolm Butler, Johnson Bademosi and Jonathan Jones at corner to figure out Jones and his fellow Falcons wideouts. 

The last time the Patriots and Falcons met, Butler played Jones only briefly. It was Logan Ryan and Rowe who saw the majority of snaps on Atlanta's No. 1. 

Bademosi saw his first defensive action of the season against the Jets, playing in 73 of 76 possible snaps and allowing three catches on three targets for 39 yards. At 6-feet, 206 pounds, Bademosi might be the player best suited to match Jones physically, but as a core special teamer for the Patriots -- and for the Lions (he played in 54 percent of Detroit's defensive snaps in 2016, a career-high) -- his level of game experience in the secondary doesn't match that of Gilmore or Rowe.

Before going up against arguably the game's best receiver, it will be worth watching if Belichick's corner depth will see any improvements this week. 

"He’s an outstanding player," Belichick said of Jones. "He’s a great blocker, strong after the catch. He’s made tremendous catches down the field. Again, he can take short plays and turn them into big plays, break tackles, gain a lot of extra yards, makes some tough first downs. He helps them in the running game, too, blocking on the perimeter. He’s a complete player."