The second-most reliable receiver on the Patriots a season ago was actually running back James White. Tom Brady leaned on the former Wisconsin standout quite a bit, especially on third downs and in big moments. Does Sunday, Feb. 5 ring a bell?
White has been invisible this preseason, but it appears by design. Bill Belichick knows what he has - and with Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee and, to a lesser extent, DJ Foster needing reps - White has done his work in practice and left the heavy lifting to others in preseason games. That shouldn’t change Thursday in the preseason finale versus the Giants, especially now that Brady's most reliable weapon, Julian Edelman, is lost for the season.
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“It’s definitely tough,” said White. “You never want to see a guy like that go down but everybody just has to step up. Julian made a lot of big plays for us in a lot of big situations. As a group, we just have to fill that void.”
White’s locker is just a few down from Edelman. In what essentially amounted to a redshirt year in his first season with the Pats, White used to marvel at Edelman’s approach, one that continued to get more maniacal the past couple of seasons.
“That guy works extremely hard,” he recalled. “The first guy in here, leaves last, catching tennis balls at 6 in the morning. Definitely valued, and as soon as he steps in here, you see how hard he works and the results show.”
White has put in his time to become an important player himself. That’s a far cry from where he was that first season, when he was so lost and so ineffective, former teammates, such as Jerod Mayo and this ex-Pat, wondered why he was ever drafted in the first place. Now he’s blossomed into arguably the Super Bowl MVP.
“Last year ended well, but at the same time, but at the same time, this year is a new slate,” he said. “Nobody cares what you did last year. You gotta get better. You better bring something new to the table. it’s a what have you done for me lately league so you gotta improve each and every week.”
To do that requires not just the physical talent but the mental acumen as well. That’s one area where White is continuing to focus on.
“I just continue to build and learn more,” said White. “I pick guy's brains, kinda see the defense, see what our defense tries to do to us. I kind of get a feel for everything to be a better football player.”
He accomplished that mission a while ago, but there’s seems to be no shortage of desire to continue that trend. With Edelman gone, the Pats will need White more than ever.