NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
There wasn’t any tackling when the New England Patriots opened training camp on Thursday morning. But James White tackled the opportunities he was given during the shorts and shells practice.
As a fourth-round draft choice out of Wisconsin’s rushing committee, White knows that it’s about finding a role within those opportunities. For him, it’s about finding a way to get on the field among the likes of running backs Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray, Stephen Houston and Roy Finch.
The 5’10”, 205-pound rookie made strides towards doing so on day one of practice.
It started when the horn sounded.
White was one of six Patriots fielding kickoffs from Stephen Gostkowski. And while kick returns may only be a fraction of the reason why the 4,000-yard Badgers rusher is in Foxborough, it’s still a valuable part.
It’s a part in which he often played collegiately, amassing 765 return yards over 40 attempts.
On the fields behind Gillette Stadium, White looked comfortable tracking the flailing ball, harnessing it, and pedaling upfield behind his lead blocks. No one was there to hit him as he made his way past the 20-yard line. That will come in time, however.
Having those elements already within his comfort zone may very well get White on one of New England’s special teams units, either as a kick returner or perhaps a punt returner, early on. Those elements, though, may also carry over on offense.
They did when White filed into 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.
Under those settings, No. 28 caught more than a handful of passes from quarterbacks Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett and Jimmy Garoppolo. He found space as a target out of the backfield and beyond, excelling in his matchups against linebackers.
That mismatching process has been in the making over the last four years as well. White recorded 73 receptions for 670 yards and three touchdowns during his time Madison, even earning two of his 14 career starts as a slot receiver.
There is some semblance to Vereen in that, and he could bring a similar skill set to the table in passing situations. Both stand in at the same size, and they possess the versatility, the hands, the balance, the quickness and the vision to play larger than their measurements.
That came to light when White took his share of handoffs.
White’s ability to take the ball, make his cut and go were illustrated on several plays during the July 24 practice. There were moments where he found a gap and lowered his shoulder level as he slipped through it, and there were moments where he likely would have disappeared under a pile had it been a full-contact session.
But White sees the field. He saw it for 5,450 all-purpose yards and 48 total touchdowns over his four seasons in the Big Ten. And he sees that the way onto it once again isn’t far from the way he began.
Doing a little bit of everything.