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A closer look at what the addition of Jeff Demps means for Patriots

08.17.12 at 3:27 pm ET
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The addition of Olympic silver medalist Jeff Demps could give a boost to the Patriots’€™ kick return position, an area that has been inconsistent for New England since Ellis Hobbs was traded to Philadelphia following the 2008 season.

That year Hobbs handled 45 of the 62 kickoff attempts and averaged 25.2 yards per return, third best in the NFL behind only Tennessee’€™s 25.4 and Seattle’€™s 25.3. In 2011, working with seven different returners, the Patriots were at 21.4 per return, 29th in the league.

It’€™s not just the stats. Since Hobbs left, the Patriots have tried several different full-timers at the spot, including Matthew Slater, Laurence Maroney, Julian Edelman, Kevin Faulk and Brandon Tate. (Tate gave them a jolt for the first half of the 2010 season, but fell off midway through the year.) Not having a consistent presence on kickoffs is a drawback, especially when you are shuffling multiple bodies through the position from game to game.

To that point, the Patriots have rotated a wide variety of players at the kick return spot throughout this year’€™s spring and summer practices, including Danny Woodhead (who handled 20 of the 46 kick returns for New England during the regular season) and Edelman (who returned 28 of the 38 punts last season for the Patriots). Wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth and running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen have also been worked in on occasion.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Thursday that last year’€™s numbers were sub-par, and there wasn’€™t much reason to be optimistic to this point, based on the preseason opener against the Saints.

‘€œWe didn’€™t return them very well in any conditions at any time [last year], and still haven’€™t based on the New Orleans game,’€ he said. ‘€œThat’€™s obviously an area that we can improve in, that we have worked hard in, but based on the results still need to do a lot more work on.’€

Into this mix comes Demps, who won a silver medal in this year’€™s Olympics. The 22-year-old, who checks in at 5-foot-9 and 181 pounds, had a standout career with the Gators, finishing with 2,470 career rushing yards and 23 touchdowns in four seasons. He didn’€™t participate in any of the spring pre-draft workouts because he was focused completely on track, and was undrafted.

While the Patriots could use Demps in a variety of ways — including as a third-down running back, not unlike Kevin Faulk — he will likely get his first chance to see the field on special teams, specifically as a kick returner. While he obviously has world-class speed, there are some drawbacks to his game. In their pre-draft assessment of Demps, our pals over at Pro Football Weekly said he had ‘€œvery small hands’€ and ‘€œlimited run strength’€ and that he might ‘€œlack the mental and physical toughness’€ to make it.

It’€™s also important to have some realistic expectations when dealing with Demps. He does have elite speed, but at the same time, he hasn’€™t been with the team throughout the spring and summer sessions. And while he does have an impressive body of work as a collegian, it takes some time for any rookie to get up to speed when it comes to making the transition to the NFL.

‘€œHe had a little bit of production,’€ Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said Friday when asked about Demps. ‘€œHow that translates over, the schemes are different. Any returner that comes into the NFL, whatever they did in college schematically is probably going to be a lot different than what we’€™re going to ask him to do.’€

The addition of Demps would make six former Florida Gators on the Patriots roster — he would join linebacker Brandon Spikes, defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, defensive lineman Gerard Warren, wide receiver Jabar Gaffney and tight end Aaron Hernandez.

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