The New England Patriots have never shied away from using their running backs as targets in the passing game. Kevin Faulk helped the team win three Super Bowls in that role during the early 2000s, Danny Woodhead became a superstar thanks to his electric run-after-the-catch abilities, and Shane Vereen was a trustworthy receiver on some of the NFL’s most potent offensive units. All three were outstanding during their time in New England.
When it comes to success playing the receiving back role for the Patriots, James White certainly can hold his own against any of them. The 27-year-old played a key role in two of the organization’s Super Bowl runs, after all, with his performance in the league’s 51st title game standing as one for the ages. Needless to say that he has carved out his spot in franchise history as a prototypical change-of-pace back.
And according to his position coach, he certainly belongs in the same category as his predecessors: “Oh my gosh, yes,” said Ivan Fears when speaking about White’s contributions to the team from a historical perspective. Fears, of course, knows what he is talking about: he is in his 23rd overall season with the Patriots and worked not just with White during that time but with Faulk, Woodhead and Vereen as well.
Even though he was not ready to crown him the best of the bunch, Fears sounded quite appreciative about the opportunity to work with White: “Let’s put it this way: he’s good and that’s what counts. He’s definitely good, and when you say those guys’ names you have to say James White. Kevin was the first and did some spectacular things; James White has done some awfully good stuff and has a lot ahead of him.”
“It has yet to be seen where this is going to end when it comes to James White. I think we’ve got a lot to see, and I think there’s a lot for him to show us. I’m kind of waiting to be a part of that — I can’t wait to see it,” continued Fears. What exactly it is he was alluding to with those statements (other than his youth) is anyone’s guess at this point in time, but it is obvious that the Patriots’ running backs coach is quite happy with his pupil.
This became even more evident when Fears started talking about the other backs’ contributions to New England’s passing game, particularly former first-round draft pick Sony Michel: “Sony is fine in the passing game, [he] will be fine. I feel Damien Harris is probably similar,” the veteran assistant coach said. “He’s not James White. If I’ve got a chance to throw it to James, I throw it to James.”
“They’ll get their passing game, in the play action passing game as it goes. In the drop-back passing game,” Fears continued when speaking about the rest of New England’s running back corps. However, his feelings for James White shone through again even when discussing the group’s younger players: “I’ve got a guy that’s special in that field, I’m going to use him. The other guys are all good in that field, I think they hold their own. I really have no problem with that, none at all.”
Fears using words like ‘special’ and ‘good’ when talking about James White tells you all you need to know about the sixth-year back: since taking over for Vereen in 2015, he has become as reliable cog in New England’s offensive machinery. And considering some of the changes the unit had to go through this year again with the retirement of Rob Gronkowski and the turnover at the wide receiver position, it would not be a surprise to see 2019 be more of the same for White.