The competition for the running back spots on the New England Patriots’ opening day roster is over. However, neither we nor the players know the results yet. All we know is that it will be a tough decision for the coaching staff which players to keep and which players to let go.
One of the players making a final push during yesterday’s final preseason game was rookie D.J. Foster.
The undrafted free agent had a busy three hours against the New York Giants. He finished as the team leader in rushing attempts (9), rushing yards (22), targets (10), receptions (9) and receiving yards (110). The 22-year old also had two punt returns (for 16 yards), one kickoff return (for 25 yards) and scored a rushing touchdown, which was called back due to an offensive holding penalty.
While he also turned the football over by fumbling in the redzone during the second quarter – a moment Bill Belichick used to coach the rookie up –, Foster had a good game yesterday. Not only was he solid as a runner and a pass catcher, he also looked good in the third important part of playing running back in the NFL: pass protection.
2-10-NE 25 (9:41) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass short middle to J.Edelman to NE 36 for 11 yards (N.Berhe).
Foster saw a lot of playing time yesterday; not only with the second- and third-stringers but with the projected starting offense as well. Midway through the first quarter, on New England’s second series, his pass protection skills were put on the test for the first time.
The Patriots, led by quarterback Tom Brady, had 11 personnel on the field. Foster lined up in the shotgun to Brady’s left when the ball was snapped. Four of the five skill position players on the field ran routes on the play, with the fifth – Foster (#27) – staying home to pass protect. The rookie did a nice job and was able to not allow his opponent, Giants safety Landon Collins (#21), to get near Brady.
The Giants initially showed an A-gap blitz but backed off to blitz another player through the B-gap. Foster did a nice job of recognizing the play and reacting to find his target. Yet despite having to make a quick adjustment, Foster displayed nice patience on the play.
His technique reflected this patience. The rookie showed some good lower-body strength and a firm stance, while he also was able to place his hands well to lean into the defender without playing too aggressively. Despite Collins out-weighing Foster by 30 pounds, the safety was unable to move the running back off his spot.
2-1-NE 34 (9:46) (No Huddle, Shotgun) T.Brady pass short middle to A.Dobson to NE 42 for 8 yards (M.Hunter).
Foster’s patience and ability to recognize and react to play developments was also on display during his other pass protection snaps. This play from the second quarter is no exception.
New England once again had 11 personnel on the field, in a 2x2 set with tight end A.J. Derby (#86) flexed out wide on the right boundary. Foster once again lined up next to Brady, who awaited the snap in the shotgun formation. The Giants again showed pressure and ultimately rushed six players:
Consequently, Foster had to block one of the rushers. With the offensive line being able to quickly engage their respective opponents, linebacker J.T. Thomas (#55) rushing through the A-gap was left as Foster’s.
The undrafted rookie recognized this quickly and was able to plant his feet firmly by the time Thomas rushed through the gap. Foster did not overplay one side and mirrored the linebacker before contact, which allowed him to place his hands well and slow the blitzer down.
While the majority of Foster’s pass blocking plays looked like this one, solid from a mental and technique perspective, not everything was perfect as the following play illustrates.
3-3-NE 47 (10:33) (Shotgun) J.Brissett sacked at NE 47 for 0 yards (S.Maponga).
The Patriots’ offense, now led by rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett, came out in 12 personnel (two tight ends, one running back) during this 3rd and 3 situation. Prior to the snap, Foster lined up to the quarterback’s right in the shotgun formation.
All four of the eligible receivers on or closer to the line of scrimmage, were sent out on routes, leaving Foster in charge of pass blocking. Unfortunately, it did not turn out as well as his earlier attempts:
While the Giants rushed only five players – giving New England a numbers advantage – they overloaded the right side of the offensive line. This, in turn, left Foster with two players to block. Brad Bars (#66) rushed from the nine-tech spot, while off-the-line linebacker Mark Herzlich (#94) rushed through the C-gap, left exposed by offensive tackle Chris Barker (#64) blocking defensive end Stansly Maponga (#71).
Unfortunately, Foster was unable to block either player. At first, he looked towards Herzlich but after a split-second turned his attention to Bars. Due to this indecisiveness and overthinking the play, Foster took too long to get into his stance and play with a proper technique.
His footwork was rushed and therefore sloppy and when he ultimately decided to block Bars, it was too late: the linebacker has gotten too wide of an angle for Foster to properly get in his way. While the rookie tried his best to slow Bars down it was too little too late. Both he and Herzlich were able to get into the backfield and flush Brissett out of the pocket for what eventually became a sack without loss of yardage.
While Foster, given the situation and decision-making he faced, did not look too good on the third play, his overall body of work in terms of pass protection was encouraging yesterday. He plays with a sound technique and recognizes the plays well. This not only helps Foster keep defenders away from the quarterback – it also improves his chances of making the team.