New England Patriots

  • Running backs Ty Montgomery (left) and Rhamondre Stevenson (right) figure to play important roles for the 2022 Patriots. (Eric Canha/Rich Barnes, USA TODAY)

    Running backs Ty Montgomery (left) and Rhamondre Stevenson (right) figure to play important roles for the 2022 Patriots. (Eric Canha/Rich Barnes, USA TODAY)

    The Patriots are officially in the post-James White era, and Head Coach Bill Belichick is left with some interesting decisions to make on how to replace him.

    That is, White’s role on the field. It would be unfair to expect anyone to match White’s level of respect as a teammate and production in big moments. The total James White package is, quite possibly, irreplaceable. But based on the Patriots’ running back usage in 2022 training camp, there are strong indications of what they plan to do.

    In the short-term, veteran Ty Montgomery looks like a major factor. After coming into the NFL as a wide receiver with the Green Bay Packers, Montgomery has morphed into a pass-catching running back who is capable of splitting out wide and making plays down the field. He’s been featured heavily in the Patriots’ simulated two-minute offense during joint practices with the Panthers. On Tuesday, he caught three passes during the two-minute session, including a nice-looking connection with quarterback Mac Jones on a deep wheel route.

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  • Montgomery has bounced around the league over the past five seasons, including stints with the Ravens, Jets, and Saints. Because of that, he wasn’t considered a surefire player to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster. But that has changed, now that White is retired – and that Belichick ostensibly confirmed Montgomery’s job is safe in a recent press conference.

    “He’s been great to work with. Ty’s been a wonderful kid to have around,” Belichick said Tuesday. “He’s a very smart, multi-skilled, multi-talented player. Offensively and in the kicking game, I think he’s shown the ability to be competitive in a lot of different areas. We’ll see how it all plays out, but I’m glad we have him. Great to work with him, and I look forward to working with him throughout the course of the year on the team in multiple roles.

    “I think there’s a lot of different things he can do. We’ll have to figure out how that’s going to play out, and how to combine him with other players on the field, who else that is and so forth. But it’s nice to be able to work with him.”

  • Montgomery’s workmanlike mindset has clearly made Belichick a massive fan. It didn’t take long after Montgomery’s Tuesday press conference to understand why the head coach is thrilled to have him. Montgomery is not concerned with labels or titles, just one refrain that’s familiar to those in Foxboro.

    “I pride myself on showing up to work and doing my job,” Montgomery said Tuesday. “I clock in, I clock out, just like everybody else, I go to work.”

    Montgomery is poised to immediately become the passing-down back in two-minute situations, and likely no-huddle or hurry-up as well. It seems that Belichick especially values his pass-catching experience and versatility for those scenarios. That, and the fact that Montgomery so locked in on simply doing what he’s asked to do.

    “I don’t know. My number got called, so I went in,” Montgomery said when asked about his role, with a smirk and a chuckle.

  • Ty Montgomery Career Stats
    Game Rush Rush Rush Rece Rece Rece Rece
    Year Tm G Rush Yds TD Tgt Rec Yds TD RRTD Fmb
    2015 GNB 6 3 14 0 19 15 136 2 2 0
    2016 GNB 15 77 457 3 56 44 348 0 3 2
    2017 GNB 8 71 273 3 31 23 173 1 4 0
    2018 2TM 13 41 188 1 40 25 235 0 1 2
    GNB 7 26 105 1 23 15 170 0 1 2
    BAL 6 15 83 0 17 10 65 0 0 0
    2019 NYJ 16 32 103 0 17 13 90 0 0 0
    2020 NOR 6 19 101 0 6 3 27 0 0 0
    2021 NOR 14 15 44 0 26 16 95 0 0 0
    Care 78 258 1180 7 195 139 1104 3 10 4
    4 yr GNB 36 177 849 7 129 97 827 3 10 4
    2 yr NOR 20 34 145 0 32 19 122 0 0 0
    1 yr BAL 6 15 83 0 17 10 65 0 0 0
    1 yr NYJ 16 32 103 0 17 13 90 0 0 0
  • Montgomery also has a chance to be the Patriots’ primary kick returner; he has 57 career kick returns for an average of 22.4 yards. Belichick also probably loves that Montgomery hasn’t fumbled in an NFL game since Oct. 18, 2018 against the Rams, when he was still on the Packers. That’s 44 straight games played, including playoffs, without a fumble. (I accept no responsibility for jinxing this.)

    Despite his opportunity to make an immediate impact, Montgomery has a long way to go to prove he could replace White beyond 2022.

    Entering 2022, the answer to the long-term question could be second-year back Rhamondre Stevenson. The sophomore out of Oklahoma has seen plenty of work with the starters as both a runner and pass-catcher in training camp, and will certainly get his share of snaps as a change of pace from Damien Harris.

  • But what could take Stevenson to the next level as a weapon for Jones is his receiving out of the backfield. He looks improved as a pass-protector, which is an extremely important quality to have for Belichick to trust you on pass plays. At 6 feet and 227 pounds, Stevenson is short on excuses for being unable to pick up a blitz or chip a pass-rusher and give Jones an extra second to throw, when necessary.

    “‘Mondre’s done a really good job improving his pass game skills, starting with blitz pickup and protection,” Belichick said Tuesday. “Route-running – he’s got good hands, catching the ball’s never really been an issue. … But most of the back’s routes come off protection, so there’s a protection element, there’s blocking the guy, recognition of it, and being in the general, or specific spot that he needs to be in to complement the rest of the pattern. That comes a lot with experience. There’s so many different variables there. Each play’s a little bit different.

    “But he’s done a good job of, again, gaining experience and all that. He’s way better than he was last year and he understands that’s an important part of his game. It’s not just carrying the ball, it’s all things that go with the passing game. So, he’s done a great job.”

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 14: Rhamondre Stevenson #38 of the New England Patriots celebrates his third quarter touchdown against the Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium on November 14, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 14: Rhamondre Stevenson #38 of the New England Patriots celebrates his third quarter touchdown against the Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium on November 14, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

  • Stevenson’s improvement in the passing game, and the void created by White’s retirement, make him a legitimate candidate to lead Patriots running backs in passing-down snaps, targets, and receptions. He’s still only 24 years old with upside, which gives him a higher ceiling than Montgomery and an opportunity to really cut into Damien Harris’ snaps.

    Looking even further into the future, the Patriots drafted two more running backs in 2022 with the additions of Pierre Strong Jr. out of South Dakota State and Kevin Harris out of South Carolina. Strong has the body type and skill set to eventually become a factor in the passing game, but his slow start to camp as he recovered from an undisclosed injury will certainly set him back. The new Harris has been available for much of training camp, but remains down near the bottom of the depth chart. Both rookies could be headed for a “redshirt” type of season.

    The Patriots’ second and third preseason games could give a glimpse into how they plan to utilize their backs as pass-catchers in 2022. But the hints have been there, and they point to Stevenson and Montgomery both playing big roles in their own unique ways.

    If they can produce like they have in camp, their emergence as a tandem would come at the exact right time.

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  • 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 mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.