By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
For all the talk of the New England Patriots' wide receiver corps, their real depth on offense in 2018 will come at the running back position. There are only so many roster spots to go around in that group, and it looks like there could be a surprise cut or two in that regard.
But among the names that end up coming across news tickers as "waived" or "released" by Sept. 1, you may not end up seeing Jeremy Hill or Ralph Webb. They're arguably the two least hyped backs on the Patriots roster heading into the season. But as far as the ones who aren't locks to make the roster, that pair made by far the most noise in Thursday's preseason opener, a 26-17 win over the Redskins.
Hill, in particular, emerged to take a clear lead over Mike Gillislee based on the way he toted the rock on Thursday. Coming into training camp leaner than the previous season, which he spent with the Cincinnati Bengals, Hill looked quick and spry with the ball in his hands. He was arguably the most explosive player on the field for either team when given the opportunity.
The 25-year-old former second-round pick was just happy to take the field against a defense other than his own teammates. He felt the presence of real game elements and a different team on the other side helped him make progress on Thursday.
"When you're out there in OTAs and you’re playing against the same defense every day, it can get kind of monotonous," Hill said. "But when you go out there with another opponent and play a real game with real situations, it's definitely a good experience for us.
"We've just got to continue to stack these up and continue to build toward the regular season."
As for Webb, an undrafted free agent with longer odds than Hill to make the team, he certainly did some things that could make Bill Belichick reconsider. The rookie out of Vanderbilt averaged just 3.3 yards per carry, but found the end zone twice and also converted a pair of two-point conversion attempts.
You could hear how excited Webb's teammates were for his performance in the Patriots' second-half comeback, constantly hollering his name with exuberance. Webb himself isn't going to get too high on the moment, though. He kept it to the team and his opportunity, like you'd expect from a Patriot.
"A lot of people can't come out here and do the things that we do," Webb said. "I'm just happy to have a team win."
Webb's opportunity came in part due to attrition. Rookie first-round pick Sony Michel is still recovering from a clean-up procedure on his knee. Rex Burkhead sat out as he deals with a minor injury. James White is a roster lock, but had limited snaps. Mike Gillislee struggled compared to Webb and Hill.
But Webb realizes that he still has plenty to learn as a rookie, absorbing as much as he can from the veterans above him on the depth chart.
"We got a great group of backs, a lot of guys that have been here," Webb said. "A lot of experience and those guys are doing a great job of taking me under their wing."
Webb may not ultimately make the 53-man roster, but he definitely gave himself a better chance at it on Thursday. He also helped his chances of landing on the Patriots practice squad. Between him and Hill, the Patriots look to have surprising depth of talent at a position that could really power the offense in 2018.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].