James White sees big season ahead for Patriots’ RB Rhamondre Stevenson – ESPN – New England Patriots Blog

Mike ReissESPN staff writerJune 25, 2023, 6:00 a.m. ET7 minutes of reading

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick thoughts and notes around New England Patriots and the NFL:

1. Rhamondre and RBs: As former Patriots running back James White (2014-21) assesses the team’s personnel at his old position, he draws a link to the past.

“It almost reminds me of before I came to the Patriots when they had Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen [in the early 2010s], and Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk and others were gone,” he said. “Back then it was like, ‘This is your backfield now.’ I feel like it’s the transition there now.”

The move is a result of Damien Harris signing with the Bills in free agency and a potential replacement for him, James Robinson, being released three months after signing this spring.

White believes Rhamondre Stevenson is ready for another heavy workload in his third NFL season.

“It’s not that often as a Patriots running back that you’re out there that many snaps,” White said after Stevenson logged 66% snaps last season and racked up 1,040 yards and five touchdowns on 210 carries. “[Coach] Bill [Belichick] love that guy, so he just has to take advantage of the opportunity.”

While the 6-foot, 225-pound Stevenson is the clear No. 1 option, there is a degree of uncertainty with an unproven staff behind him.

That has fueled speculation in some quarters that Belichick could consider adding to the lineup, with Dalvin Cook the highest-profile free agent option. White said he would be surprised if that happens, leaving an opening for the possibility only in the event of an injury to Stevenson.

Thus, White sees training camp as a critical time for nine-year veteran Ty Montgomery (limited to one game last season due to a shoulder injury), third-year running back JJ Taylor (5-6, 185) and second-year players Pierre Strong Jr. (5-11, 205) and Kevin Harris (5-10, 225) to prove they are worthy complementary options to Stevenson, who wore down a bit at the end of last season.

“I see a bunch of talented young guys and then a savvy veteran in Ty [6-0, 216], if he can stay healthy, to kind of lead those guys along,” White said. “Being around him last year, in OTAs and training camp, [Ty is] a guy who feels like he’s still trying to prove himself and feels like he’s got a lot left in the tank…he just hasn’t quite had a true opportunity.

“With Bill O’Brien returning [as offensive coordinator]will they probably get back to having a ‘sub back’ and I feel he will be the guy to take it if they don’t have Rhamondre to take the full load.

White will be watching closely in training camp to see how Strong — the South Dakota State alum who played just 51 snaps as a rookie after being drafted in the fourth round — responds to a full year in the team’s system. While the team’s offseason program officially ended on June 16, Strong stuck around last week to continue his workouts at Gillette Stadium.

“It is clear that he has the speed. It’s probably just the mental part of it. Coming in as a rookie, there’s a lot to learn and like myself [in 2014]he almost had a redshirt year,” White said.

“He’s going to have a lot thrown at him in training camp. They want to test him. Let him be in some of these preseason games to see what type of load he can accept if he can pick up the blitz, run between the tackles. If he is able to show what they expect, he will be there.”

White added that Taylor also has a long-awaited chance to carve out a more stable role, and cautioned anyone against overlooking Harris, last year’s sixth-round pick out of South Carolina.

“Kevin is a physical runner,” he said. “When you look at him, you might not think much of him. But he’s a good player, he gets downhill and is a lot faster than you think.”

2. White’s point of view: White, who was a guest at the Patriots’ practice during mandatory minicamp, was asked for a big-picture takeaway. His response: “It looked competitive. The offense looked more fluid this year at this point. It seemed like the guys were energized on the offensive end. The ball didn’t hit the ground too many times. The operation looked like it was in place — guys were getting up to the line and going — and that’s what you’re used to seeing from a Patriots-style offense.”

3. OT concerns?: One point quarterback Mac Jones and others made during the spring is that it’s hard to get a true evaluation without pads. So an early key in training camp when the pads come on after the initial ramp-up period will be how the offensive line holds up.

For all the talk about the possibility of adding receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who would of course help – one could argue that offensive tackle is the Patriots’ biggest question. With Trent Brown seemingly headed in the wrong direction after missing the first day of mandatory minicamp following an extended absence through voluntary OTAs, Calvin Anderson, Riley Reiff and Conor McDermott were the top three OTs in spring practice .

4. Jack Jones’ status: The Patriots’ first training camp is scheduled for July 26, and a popular question on social media is whether cornerback Jack Jones is expected to be there after he was arraigned last Tuesday on weapons charges. Jones won’t be back in court until August 18th, so at this point, with the team hanging on to him, why wouldn’t he be there for the start of training camp?

5th BB & 33rd team: Belichick went one-on-one with the 33rd Team website in a feature called “Get to know Bill Belichick.” Topics included his respect for Paul Brown; coaches he enjoyed competing against; how football has evolved during his tenure; special teams and how kicking has been an instrumental part of the game’s history; and his philosophy on hiring young coaches , developing them and promoting from within.. Belichick said in the interview that if he wasn’t coaching, he would have pursued a business career.

6. They said that: “I’m telling you right now, Mac Jones is going to be a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback in the near future, whether it’s this year or the next few years. He’s that good.” — ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit on “The Pat McAfee Show.

7. RB market: White sympathizes with franchise-tagged running backs Josh Jacobs (Raiders), Saquon Barkley (Giants) and Tony Pollard (Cowboys) in their hopes of landing lucrative long-term deals. “It’s definitely hard to see as a running back, the market seems to be down,” he said. “I still feel like we’re still important parts of the offense. You block, you run, you catch the ball – help in every aspect and touch the ball 20 times a game, sometimes more.”

8. Geno for Hall: Why isn’t late Patriots great Gino Cappelletti in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? That’s a good question with John Turney from Talk of Fame website make that the case long ago. No argument here.

9. Russ’ take: Former Patriots tight end Russ Francis (1975-1980, 1987-88), once referred to as the “all-world tight end” by Howard Cosell on “Monday Night Football,” said “Clap from the past” podcast, what he believes separates the best tight ends in history: those with “complete” skills — blocking, the quickness to get downfield and the hands to catch the football. He said that’s why he wondered about former Patriot Rob Gronkowski.

10. Did you know? Since 2010, there have been 27 individual 1,000-yard seasons by tight ends, according to ESPN Stats & Information. From 1970 to 2009 there were 24.

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