Saturday, August 2, 2014

Hype trumps draft status of Patriots' White, but there's no reason to pump the brakes - yet

"James White is going to be a star.  The kid from the University of Wisconsin that the faithful in Madison have dubbed with the dubious nickname "Barry" - as in Sanders, for his quick feet and violent cutting ability - is far more than what the Badgers used him for, and if he becomes everything that the Patriots envision for him, he could be the most complete running back that has roamed Foxborough for at least a decade." - Foxborough Free Press, May 16, 2014

The year was 1995 and the New England Patriots were in the midst of a decade-long depression, a team that hadn't won a playoff game since winning the AFC Championship in 1985 - a team that hadn't had a genuine featured back for even longer.

Until, that is, then-coach Bill Parcells selected a raw prospect named Curtis Martin in the third round of the draft.
White is capturing the imagination of old-school fans

Though the Patriots' fortunes would not turn in Martin's rookie season, the year following saw them carried into the Super Bowl on the strength of Martin's running, the arm of a young quarterback named Drew Bledsoe and the seam-stretching ability of a monstrous tight end named Ben Coates...

...with names like rookie Terry Glenn, an aged Shawn Jefferson, and a young wet-behind-the-ears receiver by the name of Troy Brown providing ample targets in the passing game - and a young defense lead by stalwarts Willie McGinnest, Ty Law, and rookies Lawyer Milloy and Tedy Bruschi thumping opposing offenses.

Martin left New England in a hurry to rejoin Parcells in New York a year after the mercurial coach abandoned the Patriots after the Super Bowl season (Some claim he checked out mentally before that game) and left a void at the featured back position until Antwain Smith and Corey Dillon ran roughshod over the league during the Patriots' championship years - but the title has been largely ignored since as names like Maroney, Morris, Green-Ellis and Ridley have been rendered complimentary pieces in Bill Belichick's innovation-driven quest to take over the league through the air.

And why not?  With the rules shifted to accommodate pass catchers and to protect quarterbacks, the National Football League has transformed into a passing league, what with receivers becoming bigger and faster and tight ends becoming multi-faceted demons.

But the fact remains that every single Super Bowl team that has come out of Foxborough before the post-Dillon purge has had a featured back both taking the majority of carries and contributing heavily in the passing game - in fact, looking back at every Super Bowl Championship team in the league since Belichick took over the Patriots in 2000, each had a featured back that produced heavily in his team's scheme...

...and now, the Patriots may have just found their championship mojo once more, as they ride the successes of the power running game from late last season combined with a potential trend-busting, ankle-breaking back in fourth round draft pick James White.

When asked about the selection of White, Belichick offered that White had "four-down value", and has a style similar to that of a Vereen or of a Kevin Faulk - which is a compliment coming from Belichick no matter how one looks at it - adept at running between the tackles where his diminutive stature enables him to get lost behind the big uglies, emerging at full speed to beat the linebackers on the second level. - Foxborough Free Press , May 11, 2014

A true featured back is a player whose skill set includes the ability to carry the ball inside the tackles and gain the edge to the outside, is solid in pass protection and contributes enough in the passing game to keep the defense on their heels - White brings that, plus some dazzling elusiveness once in space. 

White brings that versatility and also a level of maturity that has drawn compliments from Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady alike, not to mention the praise of the man whom he may beat out as the top back in Stevan Ridley.

The maturity?  It's not hard to figure out where that comes from, as White has been patiently waiting his turn to be the featured back in an offense since - well - since he started playing football - and with nary a complaint.

In high school, he split carries with current Cincinnati Bengals' featured back Giovani Bernard, then at Wisconsin he joined a backfield loaded with talent - sharing duties with former Pittsburgh Steeler John Clay and now-Denver Broncos' back Montee Ball as an underclassman, then with future NFL back Melvin Gordon in his senior year...

...racking up over 4000 yards on the ground with 45 scores in four years and catching over 70 balls out of the backfield and three more touchdowns - lead back production for sure with a phenomenal 6.2 yards per carry average, and although that number could be attributed in part to running behind a dominant offensive line, it is equally true that White's combination of burst and elusiveness was too much for college defenders to handle.

For certain, he will find those yards more difficult to come by in the pros, but just the notion that he accomplished what he did in college while playing a complimentary role is mind-blowing, and begs the question of what he could have done as a featured back - something that is not beyond the realm of possibility if he handles the preseason competition with the same patience and maturity.

With many comparing him to Vereen - largely due to his receiving ability - White is actually a more willing north-south runner in the mold of Danny Woodhead who has the patience of a saint and a dossier full of sick moves that earned him the moniker "Sweet Feet" from his legions of fans at the University of Wisconsin. - Foxborough Free Press, July 21, 2014

Most experts compared the 5' 10", 205 pound Wisconsin product to Patriots' third down back Shane Vereen when he was first drafted, but he has emerged as much more than that, as his skill set features better hands out of the backfield and a power running style like that of a bigger back - which have led the experts now to compare him - favorably - to Baltimore's Ray Rice.

But while all of this is intriguing, the fact remains that the world hasn't seen what White looks like on the big stage with professional linebackers looking to take his head off - but assuming they can find the diminutive powerhouse through the tall trees of the Patriots' offensive line, they had better have those ankles taped nice and tight, lest the rookie from Wisconsin break them - figuratively, of course.

Read more hype about White here: Is James White the secret weapon in New England?
Bleacher Report: Six players turning heads at Patriots' Camp
Sports Illustrated: Belichick, Brady praise James White

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