FOXBORO -- Rex Burkhead gambled on himself last offseason, accepting a one-year deal to join James White and Dion Lewis in a talented Patriots backfield that quickly became even more crowded when Mike Gillislee was signed as a restricted free agent. The results have been mixed.
Burkhead has proven to be an easy fit in an offense that has benefited from his varied skill set, but staying on the field has been an issue. He played in 10 regular-season games, and his workload in terms of snaps was about half of what both Lewis and White were given.
In 195 plays Burkhead took 64 hand-offs and was targeted in the passing game 36 times, meaning on more than 50 percent of his snaps played he was the focal point of the play. On the one hand, he's proven to be more than a reserve runner and special-teamer, which was his role in Cincinnati for the first four years of his career. But on the other, his durability has come into question after dealing with a rib injury that kept him out a month early in the season and a knee injury that forced him to miss the final two games of the year.
How teams will be willing to spend on Burkhead as a free agent this upcoming offseason will be fascinating to track, but the Patriots are just hoping to have him available this weekend against the Titans. He's been limited in recent practices, but he showed some optimism on Wednesday.
"I'm just excited . . . After the injury, you never know what is going to happen so that's always in the back of your head," he said. "But when you get good news, it helps you to look forward to these games a little better."
If the Patriots could get Burkhead on the field -- giving them a full complement of pass-catching backs with Lewis and White, who is expected to play after missing the final two weeks of the season with an injured ankle -- he could be particularly useful against Tennessee.
The Titans are one of the better run defenses in the NFL, limiting opponents to 3.45 yards rushing in their last eight games. But in the passing game, Tennessee is statistically the NFL's most generous defense when it comes to covering backs. According to Football Outsiders, the Titans are allowing a league-high 58.3 yards per game to pass-catching running backs on 8.7 targets.
Miami Dolphins players who protest on the field during the national anthem could be suspended for up to four games under a team policy issued this week.
The “Proper Anthem Conduct” section is just one sentence in a nine-page discipline document provided to The Associated Press by a person familiar with the policy who insisted on anonymity because the document is not public. It classifies anthem protests under a large list of “conduct detrimental to the club,” all of which could lead to a paid or unpaid suspension, a fine or both.
Miami’s anthem policy comes after the NFL decided in May that teams would be fined if players didn’t stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” while on the field. The league left it up to teams on how to punish players. None of the team policies have been made public.
The NFL rule forbids players from sitting or taking a knee if they are on the field or sidelines during the national anthem, but allows them to stay in the locker room if they wish. The new league rules were challenged this month in a grievance by the players union.
Patriots safety Devin McCourty was among several NFL players who criticized the new policy when it was revealed in May.
The NFL declined to comment. Team officials had no immediate comment.
© 2018 by The Associated Press
Nick Foles is likely headed back to the bench to back up Carson Wentz after leading the Philadelphia Eagles past the Patriots for their first Super Bowl title.
But the backup QB is still No. 1 in jersey and other officially licensed merchandise sales - beating out the same QB he topped in Super Bowl 52 - according to figures released by the NFL Players Association.
For the period from March 1 to May 31, it's Foles' No. 9 at No. 1 over Tom Brady's No. 12, with Wentz's No. 11, who was injured late last season before Foles took over the starting job, coming in third. At fourth is a player who has yet to take a snap yet for his team, No. 2 overall pick Saquan Barkley, the running back from Penn State who'll wear No. 26 for the New York Giants.
Brady's former backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, now wearing No. 10 for the San Francisco 49ers, checks in at eighth.
Here's the Top 10:
1. Nick Foles, Eagles QB No. 9
2. Tom Brady, Patriots QB No. 12
3. Carson Wentz, Eagles QB No. 11
4. Saquon Barkley, Giants RB No. 26
5. Dak Prescott, Cowboys QB No. 4
6. Aaron Rodgers, Packers QB No. 12
7. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys RB No. 21
8. Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers QB No. 10
9. Odell Beckham Jr., Giants WR No. 13
10. Derek Carr, Raiders QB No. 4
Other Patriots in the Top 50: Tight end Rob Gronkowski, whose No. 87 gear is 24th and at 32nd, it's wide receiver Julian Edelman, who wears No. 11.