|Jeff Demps: ‘I have a long way to go’||08.22.12 at 2:12 pm ET|
Running back and kick returner Jeff Demps saw his first practice action with the Patriots on Wednesday morning, and the Olympic silver medalist was thrown right into the fray, going at it in one-on-one drills in a joint practice session with the Buccaneers in Tampa.
For Demps, who said he hasn’t touched a football since Florida beat Ohio State in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl back on Jan. 2, it was good to get back to the field.
“Today is my first time, so I have a long way to go,” Demps told reporters. “But I just want to come out each and every day and work hard.”
Running backs coach Ivan Fears said Demps was a “great guy,” but indicated that it will take some time to get back into football form — particularly for a rookie who wasn’t a part of the spring or summer sessions, and hasn’t even touched a football in almost eight months.
“Just going back to his college history, the guy was extremely productive in college. [But] this is the first day we’ve seen him. Not a whole lot we can tell you, other than he got tired running two runs,” Fears added with a laugh, “so I was kind of a little pissed off at him.
“For [Demps], it’s mostly just getting his feet up under him, getting a little wind back in his lungs, getting used to catching the ball,” Fears added. “You know, he hasn’t touched it in six months or more. And getting the feel of what he did when he was back in college. I’m sure it won’t take that long for a guy like him. He’s such a great athlete, just based on what I’ve seen on film. He’s starting. We’ll see.”
The 22-year-old Demps, 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. However, he didn’t participate in any of the spring pre-draft workouts because he was focused completely on track, and was undrafted.
While the focus on track paid off with a silver medal at the London Olympics, it set him back as a football player.
“He didn’t go to the combine. He wasn’t in any of that stuff. He set his mind that he was going to be in Olympic training,” Fears said. “I had a nice conversation with him. It was an interesting mindset. He felt he couldn’t do both.
“But it’s kind of exciting to see him. I haven’t had anyone I could say had world-class speed.”
The Patriots beat out several other suitors for Demps, and signed him late last week to a contract that, according to NFL.com’s Brian McIntyre, includes a signing bonus of $11,000 and a fully guaranteed $200,000 of the $390,000 base salary Demps would earn if he makes the 53-man roster. (According to McIntyre, the total of $211,000 in guaranteed money is the second-largest sum given to a 2012 undrafted free agent, exceeded only by the $214,000 the Cowboys guaranteed offensive lineman Ronald Leary.)
While the contract was nice, Demps said Wednesday there were other reasons why he signed with New England.
“Everything was just family based,” he said of the Patriots. “[I felt] like I was already a part of the team.”
Long-term, he figures to contribute both as a running back and kick returner, and one thing that should help ease the transition is that Demps was with former Patriots’ offensive coordinator Charlie Weis when Weis was the Gators’ offensive coordinator in 2011.
In the short term, Fears noted that Demps was “courageous” for being tossed right into action on Wednesday. However, Demps said that might have been the easiest part of the transition, noting it was one he made all the time in college … with one exception.
“Well, I always had a football background. I’m a football player first, so I’m used to just jumping right into it coming off of track season,” he said. “So it was basically the same transition, except the guys are a lot bigger.”
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