James White update muddies up Patriots’ running back situation heading into camp
July 19th, 2022
The latest update on Patriots running back James White doesn’t bode particularly well for his health status heading into the 2022 season.
ESPN’s Mike Reiss attended a community event last Wednesday, during which White made an appearance and spent time reading with local youths as part of the Patriots’ “Read Between the Lines” charity program. Reiss noticed that White appeared to be moving uncomfortably during the event, and noted it in his most recent column:
Veteran running back James White (right hip) was still walking with what appeared to be an uncomfortable gait following a community appearance Wednesday. He is among the rehabbing players scheduled to report to training camp next week, where it should become clearer how close he is to possibly returning. “Just working so I can be the best player I can be whenever I step out on that field,” White said.
White has been recovering since last September, when he suffered a right hip subluxation in the Patriots’ home loss to the New Orleans Saints. He underwent season-ending surgery soon after that.
While White is expected to report to training camp on time, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be a full participant out of the gate. The veteran third-down specialist remains one of the Patriots’ leaders and an important piece to the offense – his role, anyway.
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White was a 17-game pace to make 68 catches for 400 yards through the air prior to the injury. Now 30 years old, he’s the elder statesman of an otherwise young Patriots running back room.
If White simply won’t be the same player he’s been for the Patriots from here on out, then the question is how they plan to replace him. Long-term, the answer could certainly come from inside the organization.
Second-year back Rhamondre Stevenson had 147 touches as a rookie, the third-most by a Patriot at that position since 2000. Some of that was, of course, out of necessity, due to White’s injury. But Stevenson did flash surprisingly soft hands for a kid with his bowling ball frame (6 feet, 227 pounds) and figures to be in the mix for targets in 2022, even with a healthy White in the lineup.
Stevenson’s quick emergence could be a good sign for this year’s rookie backs, particularly fourth-round pick Pierre Strong Jr. out of South Dakota State. Strong has almost the same build as White at 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, and did contribute as a pass-catcher at S.D. State, with 42 catches in 24 games.
The Patriots also drafted running back Kevin Harris out of South Carolina in the sixth round of the 2022 draft, but Harris is more of a bruising back at 5-foot-10 and 220 (!) pounds. He did, however, catch 35 passes in 27 games for the Gamecocks.
Pierre Strong Jr. #20 of the South Dakota State Jackrabbits avoids a tackles by Braelen Oliver #14 of the Minnesota Gophers during the fourth quarter of the game on August 29, 2018 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Gophers defeated the Jackrabbits 28-21. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Damien Harris, meanwhile, chipped in with 18 catches on 21 targets in the 2021 season. He has a big campaign coming up in the final year of his rookie deal and seemingly no extension on the horizon. But at the same time, he’s clearly established himself more as an early-down back than he ever will as a receiver.
The dark-horse candidate to remember is free-agent addition Ty Montgomery, whose pure skill set is the most comparable to White. But Montgomery is also coming off a career-low 5.9 yards per catch with the Saints. He should not be considered a lock to even make the 53-man roster.
Third-year back J.J. Taylor remains on the 90-man roster as training camp approaches. But 2021 presented a big opportunity for Taylor to really be the Next Man Up™ after White’s injury, and he couldn’t capitalize. Taylor was active for only eight games, and actually played in just five of them.
May 23, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Ty Montgomery (14) works with assistant coach Troy Brown at the team’s OTA at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
The running back group, and especially the pecking order for passing down reps, will be one of the storylines to watch entering Patriots training camp. White’s continued recovery from his hip surgery, and long-term uncertainty, could open up opportunities for those beneath him on the depth chart.
Rookies report to camp on Tuesday, with veterans to follow on Tuesday, July 26. The first official day of training camp is set for Wednesday, July 27 in Foxboro.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster 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? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.