By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots offense looked very new and very different on Sunday in Cam Newton’s debut. While besides Newton himself it’s mostly the same players out there, they’re being asked to do different things than they were in the past.
Perhaps the most notable shift for a returning member of the team was Rex Burkhead. He’s always been known as a versatile player, but they had him lining up all over the field in the season opener. From traditional running back sets, to jet motions, split out wide, and even in an inline tight end spot, the 30-year old back seemed to be everywhere in the formation on Sunday.
“I enjoy it,” Burkhead told reporters on Wednesday. “Just being able to be the versatile piece for the offense to be able to – whether that’s split out wide, come in motion, be in the backfield, whatever that is. You know, I take pride in that.”
While it’s certainly a new look to the Patriots offensive sets, Burkhead says his new role didn’t come as a surprise.
“It’s something I could always kind of see myself doing,” he said, before crediting offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for seeing the potential in that kind of usage. “Coach McDaniels knows our strengths and how we can be used out on the field. And so he does that to the best of his ability and to put us in a good position to win.”
That potential was certainly maximized in the opener. The Patriots rushing for a league-high 217 yards on 42 carries, their best performance on the ground in two years. Burkhead himself accounted for 32 yards on seven carries, and his fifth-best career rushing average (4.6 yards/attempt) when carrying the ball at least seven times in one game.
Expect Burkhead to keep thriving in his newly modified role. After all, it’s offensive creativity like this that helped draw him to the Patriots in free agency in 2017.
“That’s a part of it,” he said. “You’ve always seen how they’ve used their backs in the passing game. It’s something that always I wanted to do (sic). And in the run game, of course, as well. So it’s definitely intriguing. It was intriguing to me and I just enjoyed that.”
Now, that was only one game, and what we saw week one likely wasn’t the finished product of the 2020 offense, but rather just a taste of what’s to come. We’ll see how Burkhead’s role continues to evolve as the season goes on.