- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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TAMPA – When rookie running back Jeff Demps concluded his first full-pads practice with the Patriots on Wednesday, he was out of breath as he approached a group of reporters.
He might be a world-class sprinter, having won a silver medal at the Olympics, but that hasn’t made his transition back to football a cinch.
“That’s probably going to be the toughest part, just getting back into that football shape,” Demps told reporters after a joint practice with the Buccaneers that lasted 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Demps added that learning the Patriots’ plays will also be a challenge – he does have some background in the team’s system from having played for former New England offensive coordinator Charlie Weis at Florida -- but the coaching staff didn’t hesitate to throw him right into the mix Wednesday.
Wearing jersey No. 42, he competed in 1-on-1 blitz pickup drills against Buccaneers players. His effort was described as “courageous” by running backs coach Ivan Fears.
“I’m a football player first,” Demps said, when asked about the transition from track-and-field to the gridiron. “I’m used to jumping right into it, coming off of track season. It was basically like the same transition [as before], but guys were a lot bigger.”
Demps is listed at 5-foot-7 on the team’s roster, and said he was 183 pounds, five pounds lighter than his playing weight at Florida.
Earlier in practice, he was also seen fielding kickoffs, which is one area that the Patriots figure to give Demps a chance to shine.
Wednesday marked the first time Demps was playing football, or focusing on football-specific drills, since after Florida’s bowl game in early January.
Fears said that Demps is the fastest player he’s coached in his 37 years in the game (22 in the NFL). He doesn’t think it will be long before Demps gets himself into game shape.
“Skill guys can play a lot faster than big guys can,” he said. “For him, it’s mostly just getting his feet up under him, getting a little wind back in his lungs, and getting used to catching the ball. I’m sure it won’t take that long for a guy like him. He’s such a great athlete, just based on what I’ve seen on film. … It’s kind of exciting to see him.”