Jeff Demps ‘thrown into the fire’ as he continues to try to pick up Patriots offense
|08.29.12 at 12:02 am ET|
FOXBORO — In one of the most intriguing debuts in recent Patriots history, Olympic medalist Jeff Demps ended up with three carries for 41 yards in his first action with New England last Friday against Tampa Bay. It included a 29-yard run to help get the Patriots in position for a second-half touchdown. He also returned two kickoffs for 44 yards and one punt for 16 yards.
The Patriots have that their share of burners over the years — Bethel Johnson and Matthew Slater are probably two of the fastest guys on the roster over the last 10 years — but after watching Demps on the field for one quarter of action, it’s obvious none of them can match Demps’ world-class speed.
“I was still a little anxious with it being my first time and all, but I enjoyed it,” Demps said a couple of days after his preseason debut. “I’m ready to learn all the plays and actually get on the field and try to make some plays.”
“You know, he got quite a bit of an opportunity,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “Coach put him in a position to make some plays out there both in the return game and at running back. It was pretty amazing to go from what he was training for for the last six or eight months of his life, and to come in here and put pads on and do the same thing. So it’s really a credit to his hard work and his mental toughness.”
The 22-year-old Demps, a college track star who checks in at 5-foot-9 and 181 pounds, had a standout career at Florida, 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 that focus paid off in the form of an Olympic silver medal, it set him back in his development as a football player. The Patriots signed him earlier this month to a three-year deal (the $211,000 in guaranteed money is the second-most for an undrafted free agent this year, according to NFL.com), and since then, Demps has been, in his words, “thrown into the fire.”
“That’s how I’m going to learn — just kind of get thrown into the fire and see how I adapt to it,” he said. “You know that nothing is promised and anything can happen, so you just try to go out there and work hard and give it your all. Whatever happens after that, happens.”
Starting late is nothing new for Demps, who was always “a little behind” when he was a collegian.
“Coming off the track season, I [was] always a little behind. Even when I was with Florida, so it’s nothing new,” he said. “I’m just going to compete and try to make this team.”
One thing that he does have in his favor is that he has some experience in a similar offense — former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis was with the Gators for one year while Demps was a collegian. While Demps agreed that the acclimation process has been more of a refresher course as opposed to crash course, he said it would still take him some time.
“[It’s] kind of the same thing that Charlie was teaching us at Florida,” he said of the New England offense, “but I’ve kind of been out of it for a while now, so I kind of got a little setback. It might take me a while, it might not.”
Demps joins a young group of running backs — the senior member of the crew is 27-year-old Danny Woodhead, who is going into his fifth season in the league. Demps said they’ve been able to bond quickly as a group.
“You have a lot of young guys, but at the same time, everybody is trying to help each other get better — whether that’s on the field, off the field, you name it,” he said. “It’s not like guys are selfish here. Like I said, guys are trying to get each other better.”
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