Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO -- James White knows that while he and Dion Lewis play the same position, they aren't the same player. With Lewis set to begin the season on the physically unable to perform list, White may see more work, but he's not expecting to do exactly what Lewis did before tearing his ACL last season. 

"I'm always gonna be myself," White said on Monday. "Your role can change on the team each and every year. Whatever my role happens to be, I'm gonna go out there, do it to the best of my ability, and just try to help this team win."

Here's what we can say about White after watching him see his workload increase following Lewis' injury: He is a talented receiving back. 

He was graded by Pro Football Focus as the third-best pass-catching back in the league last season behind Detroit's Theo Riddick and San Diego's Danny Woodhead. He caught 85 percent of the targets thrown his way, and he was ninth in the league among running backs who qualified with an average of 10.3 yards per catch. 

His 2.07 yards per route run, according to PFF, was actually a better mark than Lewis posted (1.94) in 2015, and the 11 tackles White eluded as a receiver were good enough for a spot in the top-20 among running backs.

That quality to make people miss in space has been on display throughout training camp, and White said that watching Lewis on a daily basis last season may have made him more effective in that regard. 

 

It certainly has him thinking more creatively.

"Definitely. He's one of the -- I think -- one of the best players in the league at eluding defenders," White said of Lewis. "You can watch film on him, see what he does, ask him questions. It kind of speaks for itself. You try to mimic people sometimes, and try to [rep] it in practice. When it comes down to the games, just try to do it and do it fast."

Where White had issues last season was when the team asked him to serve as a ball-carrier out of the backfield. He forced just one missed tackle in 22 attempts last season, which was the least of any back in the league who played in 25 percent of his teams offensive snaps. He was also last in the league in terms of total yards after contact and yards after contact per attempt. His 2.5 yards per carry was the lowest mark in the league among backs who qualified, per PFF. 

White, 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, showed the ability to run between the tackles in a run-heavy offense in Wisconsin, accumulating 4,015 yards on the ground in four seasons. The 2014 fourth-round selection indicated that with another year in the Patriots offense under his belt, that part of the game -- running among the trees at the line of scrimmage -- will improve. 

"It happens," he said. "You're not going to be great at everything at the start. You have to be patient with it sometimes . . . Just working hard during practice at it. That's when you're going to get the most work when you're in pads. Trusting the run reads. Knowing what you have to read, and just running hard."

If White can provide the Patriots with some production in that area, proving to be a respectable dual threat in order to keep opposing defenses honest, he won't have to be Dion Lewis for the offense to succeed. Given the talent around him and the skill set he showed last season, being himself should be more than enough.