Patriots backs put in 'passing camp' work: White impressive, Burkhead adjusting

Patriots backs put in 'passing camp' work: White impressive, Burkhead adjusting

FOXBORO -- The running back position has been one of the fascinating to watch on the Patriots roster this spring and that shouldn't change as the team transitions to training camp later this summer when pads are introduced. 

It's a deep group. Adding Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead to Dion Lewis, James White and second-year back DJ Foster provided the group a measure of insurance that it hasn't had in recent memory. 

Though it's difficult to get a true sense for how backs stack up when all players are clad in shorts and t-shirts, here's a quick rundown of what we saw from each member of the running back room during three days of minicamp this week . . .

It was an abrupt end to a bumpy 2016 season for Lewis. By the time playoffs rolled around, he appeared to have regained most of the explosiveness he put on display the year before, but he ended the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl with a hamstring injury that opened the door for James White to continue to get the bulk of the work in overtime. This spring -- during what's essentially a passing camp -- Lewis seems to be healthy again, showing fluidity in and out of his breaks. On Thursday, he conveyed his excitement to be available this time of year. "I love to play football," he said. "Whenever I get to do that, no matter if it's training camp, OTAs, the season, whenever I get the chance to do that I'm happy to do it, I'm blessed to do it. I just come out here, work as hard as I can every day and try to do the best that I can."

White has picked up where he left off in February. After signing a new deal this offseason, he looks unchanged in terms of the level of detail with which he attacks practices. There were times during certain passing periods where offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels seemed to use White as the example for the rest of the group in terms of how to run a certain route based on a certain defensive look. He's precise, and it's not difficult to see why he's as trusted as he is. On Wednesday, White took a bulk of reps with Jimmy Garoppolo and the second offensive group, but that appeared to be a situation in which the Patriots coaching staff simply wanted to get Rex Burkhead some time with Tom Brady to develop a rapport between the two.

The versatile former Cincinnati Bengal had his moments during minicamp. On Day 2, he was a dependable safety valve for Brady in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 periods. There are times, however, where it's apparent Burkhead has a way to go in terms of understanding the route-running nuances taught in New England. In periods with no defense and McDaniels running the show, Burkhead spent some extra time with his new offensive coordinator to better understand how a particular route should be run given a particular look shown by the defensive back in front of him. Depths of routes and where exactly to make cuts was also harped on. Burkhead has the physical tools to be an effective option in the passing game -- he was used out of the slot in Cincinnati at times -- but it should come as no surprise that it will take him some time before being fully up-to-date on the expectations of his new club.

This wasn't Gillislee's week to shine. Because OTAs focus on the passing game, Gillislee wasn't given much of an opportunity to showcase his between-the-tackles skill set. We'll have a better idea of what he can do when the pads come on in training camp. At this point, it seems safe to classify him as the team's next "big back" -- a role last occupied by LeGarrette Blount.

Foster has already made a handful of difficult catches during practice periods open to reporters this spring. And in terms of the quarterbacks with which he's worked, Foster has probably jumped around the most. He caught a touchdown from Brady a couple of weeks ago that had Brady celebrating like it was a game-winning score in January. He's also caught passes from Jimmy Garoppolo and spent time lined up next to Jacoby Brissett. It could be an uphill climb for Foster to crack the 53-man roster with so much talent at the position, but it looked like he did nothing but help himself during minicamp.

Bolden continued to take reps with what would be considered the team's top group of coverage players on the punt team. That will be his ticket to a roster spot as there are several players he would have to leapfrog to earn a role offensively.

The undrafted 6-foot, 225-pound back out of Iowa doesn't exactly fit the mold as a pass-catching back. "Yeah, I think guys like that, that’s less of their game," Belichick said when asked what Daniels could show during OTAs. He'll have a chance to run with a little more physicality later this summer.

Second ex-Pats OT to make free-agent visit to Cowboys

Second ex-Pats OT to make free-agent visit to Cowboys

The Patriots, who lost left tackle Nate Solder to the Giants last week, have a couple of his possible replacements, Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle, reportedly making free-agent visits to the Dallas Cowboys.

The Fleming visit was reported Sunday. On Monday, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that Waddle will be joining his former Patriots teammate in Dallas.

Replacing Solder is obviously a key part of the Patriots offseason and retaining Waddle or Fleming could figure into those plans. Waddle, who turns 27 in July, was signed from the Detroit Lions in 2016 and appeared in 12 games last year, starting four. Fleming, a fourth-round Pats pick from Stamford in 2014, turns 26 in September and also played in 12 games last season, starting six.


What are the Patriots getting in Cordarrelle Patterson?

What are the Patriots getting in Cordarrelle Patterson?

The Patriots have made a trade with the Raiders to acquire receiver and special teamer Cordarrelle Patterson, according to a source. The deal, first reported by Pardon My Take, is an interesting one because it lands Patterson with the team that passed on the opportunity to draft him back in 2013. 


Bill Belichick dealt the No. 29 overall pick to the Vikings that year in exchange for four selections, including a second-rounder and a third-rounder. The second-rounder became Jamie Collins, and the third became Logan Ryan. The Patriots also took Josh Boyce with a fourth they received in the trade, and the fourth pick (a seventh) was traded to Tampa Bay in exchange for LeGarrette Blount. The Vikings took Patterson. 

Patterson's career to this point has been a mixed bag. One of the top athletes in the 2013 draft, the Tennessee product never quite panned out as a go-to No. 1 receiver. He has not missed a game in five seasons, but he has never cracked 600 offensive snaps in a single season. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder has turned himself into more of a gadget receiver as well as one of the game's best special teamers. 

Here's what the Patriots are getting in Patterson . . . 

TOP-TIER SPECIAL TEAMER: Patterson has solidified himself as one of the NFL's best kick-returners. In five seasons, he's ranked as the top returner in terms of average yards per return three times. He's never been outside of the top 10 in the league in that category. Last year he was sixth in the NFL with a 28.3 yards per return average. Patterson has also become a highly-effective gunner on punt units, a role he thrived in once he embraced it, and he has kick coverage experience. Patterson has not been a punt-returner. He has just one punt return under his belt compared to 153 kick returns. Patterson has been named a First-Team All-Pro twice for his work in the kicking game. 

INCONSISTENT RECEIVER: Patterson has never been able to take his explosiveness and translate that into consistent production offensively. He's not thought of as a precise route-runner, and he has a reputation as a "body-catcher." Yet, because he's so dynamic with the ball in his hands, offenses in Oakland and Minnesota have found ways to get the ball in his hands. He'll align in the backfield, take reverses and catch screens just to try to get him the ball in space where he can let his natural abilities take over. If he gets a crease, he can create a chunk play in a blink. 

THE COST: Patterson is in the second year of a two-year deal he signed with the Raiders last offseason. He has a base salary of $3 million and a cap hit of $3.25 million. The Patriots will be sending a fifth-rounder to the Raiders and getting a sixth-rounder back. (As an aside . . . The Patriots have used one fifth-round pick in the last six drafts. It was spent on long-snapper Joe Cardona. Why are they constantly dealing fifths away? Inside the Pylon's Dave Archibald did an interesting piece on that topic about a year and a half ago. The gist is that a) there's a significant drop-off in your chances of finding a star in the fifth compared to the fourth, and b) the talent in the fifth round, by some metrics, hasn't proven to be all that different from the sixth or seventh rounds.) 

THE FIT: Patterson is a relatively low-risk acquisition because of his cap hit (which on the Patriots slots him in between Shea McClellin and Chris Hogan) and because of the draft capital required to nab him. Trading for a player like Patterson as opposed to signing another team's free agent has the added benefit of not impacting the compensatory-pick formula. Patterson also fills a few needs. His abilities as a kick-returner will be more than suitable with last year's primary kick returner for the Patriots, Dion Lewis, out of the mix. What Patterson can do as a gunner and in kick coverage will also be useful with Johnson Bademosi now elsewhere. There's also a chance Matthew Slater plays in a different city in 2017, in which case Patterson's contributions as a gunner and in kick coverage could be critical. With Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman and Hogan all established in the Patriots offense, Patterson won't be expected to take on a heavy role in the Patriots offense. However, if he can pick up a new system, perhaps he could take on a role as a No. 4 or 5 wideout who benefits from plays designed to get him touches in space. Malcolm Mitchell, Phillip Dorsett and Kenny Britt -- now alongside Patterson -- will all be competing for time in New England's offense. Former Patriots coaching assistant Mike Lombardi seems to believe it's unlikely Patterson contributes offensively