James White: More than a 3rd down back

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
8:00
AM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Belichick's annual sit-down with Sirius XM NFL Radio usually enhances one's knowledge of the New England Patriots and this year was no different. Belichick was interviewed by co-hosts Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan, with the segment airing Monday, and the biggest takeaway was how public perception of rookie running back James White (4th round, Wisconsin) might differ from the internal view.

[+] EnlargeJames White
AP Images/Michael DwyerPatriots coach Bill Belichick says rookie running back James White will compete in "both the running game and the passing game."
Specifically, White has been labeled by some as more of a "passing back" in the mold of Kevin Faulk. But that doesn't mean he won't be part of the consideration in more traditional running situations as well.

"It’s been good working with James White. He’s a very interesting and versatile player," Belichick said on the program. "He does a good job in the passing game and in the running game -- both inside and outside. Blitz pickup -- we have a pretty extensive offense for him to learn, but he’s working hard at it. We’ll just let him go and see how it goes, but I think he has the ability to compete on all three downs, in both the running game and the passing game."

White is listed at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds on the Patriots' roster, which might be slightly generous height-wise and puts him closer to the physical profile of Ravens running back Ray Rice (5-8, 206).

Traditionally, the Patriots' "lead" back has been a bit bigger than that, with Stevan Ridley (5-11, 220) the most recent example. LeGarrette Blount (6-0, 250) was the biggest of them all, and when he signed with the Steelers in free agency this offseason, it was easy to assume the Patriots would look for another big back to fill the void.

Instead, they went the smaller route with White, who gives the Patriots a potential different look in that he can sometimes be tough for defenders to locate behind bigger blockers. We've seen that early in training camp, such as the time White squirted through the right side with a strong burst, something he did often at Wisconsin in averaging 6-plus yards per carry.

So while White's pass-catching ability has been noted often in recent months, Belichick's remarks about him competing on "all three downs" remind us that White should also be part of the consideration when it comes to early-down running plays.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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