Camp Battles: Running backs face stark competition

Camp Battles: Running backs face stark competition

FOXBORO -- Dion Lewis was the best pure runner to wear a Patriots uniform since an inspired Corey Dillon back in 2004. That’s a mighty long time to go between elite backs but that’s also what happens when you have the best quarterback in NFL history on your side. 

But despite his terrific skills and season, it wasn’t as if the Pats let Lewis be the team’s bell cow back until the final two weeks of the regular season. It was then the shifty yet powerful Lewis put the offense on his shoulder, combining for 61 total touches against AFC East foes Buffalo and New York. That amounted to essentially 30% of Lewis’ workload for the entire season (180 rushes/32 receptions).

So how will the Pats change with Lewis gone but not forgotten (they’ll see him week 10 at Tennessee)? Not a hell of a lot. Bill Belichick has approach that position with a by committee approach and there’s nothing to suggest that will change less than a week in training camp. What is clear, however, is that the best back on the roster to this point has been Rex Burkhead.

The veteran runner impressed during his first season with New England and earned a three-year contract in the offseason. It’s safe to say Burkhead’s ability warrants more than the 64 rushes he got a year ago but that was in part because the 28-year old was plagued by injuries, missing a half dozen games, and Lewis’ re-emergence at the position. Burkhead looks as quick as ever during the early days of camp, and his jump cut ability is damn near close to what Lewis provided. He should bring some big play pop to the attack both as a runner and, of course, as a pass receiver, where you could see Burkhead find himself in the slot on occasion.

First-round rookie Sony Michel has shown signs that he can handle the early stages of the team’s passing attack and also brought some power to the goal line. There is no question the staff is high on his ability (duh) but Michel will have to work hard to prove he’s reliable, especially when it comes to holding onto the rock. That was an issue in college and has flashed again during spring and summer camps.

No one ever worries about the team’s top passing back, James White. He has come a mighty long way from his rookie season when several defensive players privately thought Belichick had swung and missed. Now White is as reliable as they come, a terrific receiver out of the backfield but also someone who has improved his run ability between the tackles. Pencil him in for 55 catches, maybe more with the concerns at wide receiver.

After that, there may be an open spot for a power back. Mike Gillislee scored three touchdowns in the season opener last year then regressed. By the end of the year, he was a healthy scratch although to his credit, didn’t make waves publicly or otherwise. Due about 2-and-a-half million dollars this year, he would seem to be very much on the bubble, duking it out with a much cheaper one-year contract alternative, former Bengals RB Jeremy Hill. Hill and Gillislee have both had their moments in the red zone early in camp but the latter missed Sunday’s session and availability - as we know - is very important to Belichick. I guess Brandon Bolden could be an option as a big back too but we’ve read that story and it always seems to end the same way. 

Former Vanderbilt star Ralph Webb seems ticketed for the practice squad if he can show any signs this summer. Belichick walked and talked with the rookie for a good 7 or 8 minutes Saturday before the start of practice and it’s also important to remember the team coughed up a decent chunk of change for the undrafted runner to get him on their roster. 


David Tyree randomly praises Julian Edelman for circus Super Bowl LI catch

David Tyree randomly praises Julian Edelman for circus Super Bowl LI catch

The coronavirus shutdown is bringing some blasts from the past out of the woodwork.

With professional sports on indefinite hold, FOX filled the void Sunday by rebroadcasting the New England Patriots' historic comeback against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.

To promote that game (which Tom Brady seemed to enjoy) the NFL's Instagram account posted a clip of Julian Edelman's insane catch in the fourth quarter that kept the Patriots' drive alive.

Guess who popped up in the Instagram comments of that post Monday? A guy who's familiar with circus catches in the Super Bowl: David Tyree.

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"Can’t lie...this catch was crazzzyyy!! Legendary @edelman11," the former New York Giants wide receiver wrote, adding eight emojis (four flames and four folded hands, in case you're wondering) for emphasis.

For Patriots fans who have endured too much this offseason, skip ahead. For the rest of you: Tyree became famous thanks to his wild "helmet catch" in Super Bowl XLII that, like Edelman's grab, saved a late Giants drive and helped New York upset an undefeated New England team in Super Bowl XLII.

Tyree was out of the league two seasons after that historic grab, but it's clearly followed him in his post-NFL life.

As for which catch was better, Edelman's or Tyree's? We'll let Patriots and Giants fans hash that one out.

Fans overwhelmingly prefer Patriots go Stidham-Hoyer in 2020

Fans overwhelmingly prefer Patriots go Stidham-Hoyer in 2020

Why in God’s name do I keep reading and hearing “Cam Newton” and “Patriots” in the same sentence?  

Or Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton or any other backsliding veteran on the free-agent quarterback market?

Are people insane? Were they slumbering for the past 19 years? Or just a little forgetful?

The lead mule pulling their wagon for the past 20 years was a sixth-round pick. The only guy that filled in for the aforementioned sixth-rounder over an extended period was a seventh-round pick. The guy who was supposed to succeed the sixth-rounder was a second-rounder from a Div. II school.

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Tom Brady, Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo were all overlooked, undervalued and brought into the Patriots laboratory where they turned into either good, really good or legendary quarterbacks. The Patriots brew their own quarterbacks, thank you very much.

And with a one-year hitch in salary cap jail hanging over them, they are not going to be in the market for someone looking to make a seven or eight-figure salary who just flunked out of a lesser team’s program.

The Patriots make their own brew, thank you very much.

Bill Belichick has the helmeted heads of so many first-rounders and first-overall picks mounted on his wall that suggesting he’d be in the market for a live one makes no sense.

During Tom Brady’s long goodbye, I was told by team sources the Patriots weren’t going to be chasing a veteran “name.” And their actions since have signaled that.

They are going with their fairly-promising fourth-rounder, Jarrett Stidham, and they have Brian Hoyer (undrafted free agent who came into the league with the Patriots in 2009) to take the reins if the Coronavirus-marred offseason means Stidham’s not ready.

And, thanks to our Quarantine Question of the Day posed Monday morning on Twitter, it’s clear most Patriots fans think that’s the right approach.

Of the 5,148 votes cast in six hours, 64.6 percent of respondents chose “Ride with Stidham/Hoyer” as the preferred Patriots approach for 2020.

Meanwhile, 12.2 percent felt that bringing in a rookie to compete with Stidham was the move to make. I suggested either Tua Tagovailoa or Jordan Love in the poll. Others suggested different options to battle Stidham as Brady’s successor.

I jokingly included an option to trade with the Bucs for Brady. A significant portion (17.4 percent) of the populace thought that was a capital idea (even though Brady has a no-trade clause).

There was a suggestion I didn’t hate -- grabbing Niners backup Nick Mullens to come in and push Stidham.

The least popular option was recycling someone like Newton. That option drew just 5.8 percent of the vote.

And one respondent had a hard time making his selection at all.

It happens. We’ll be back later in the week with more QUARANTINE QUESTIONS OF THE DAY!!!!