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Security command: Rookie RB James White talks about protecting football, QB

05.20.14 at 12:51 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Running back James White, taken in the fourth round of the NFL draft earlier this month by the Patriots, lives by a pretty simple philosophy.

“Ball security is job security,” he said Tuesday during a break in offseason workouts at Gillette Stadium. “That’s what I’ve always been told.”

The Wisconsin product distinguished himself in a number of areas as a collegian — the 5-foot-10, 194-pounder finished his college career ranked No. 4 all-time at Wisconsin with 4,015 rushing yards, including a career-high 1,444 yards on 221 carries (6.5 average) and 13 touchdowns.

In addition, the consensus second-team All-Big Ten last year ranks third all-time at UW in rushing touchdowns (45), and is tied for the eighth-most in Big Ten history. He also ranks third all-time at Wisconsin in total touchdowns (48), the ninth-most by a Big Ten player.

But the stat that really jumps off the page are his fumbles. Or back thereof. He fumbled just twice in 754 career touches as a collegian.

“All my coaches have stressed [ball security],” he said. “Like I said, if the ball is in your hands, you have to protect it.”

The rookie enters a crowded backfield, and figures to sit — at least initially — behind Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden in 2014. (Although it is worth noting that all three of those players are heading into the final year of their contracts.)

White knows that he’s starting at the bottom of the depth chart.

“I spoke to them a little bit,” he said when asked about the veterans. “We’re starting to mix in a little this week, so [I'll] just learn from those guys and work hard.

“[I just have to] take advantage of my opportunities,” he said. “That’s all you have to do. Whenever the ball is in your hands, make the most of it.”

One guy he figures to be able to learn from is Vereen. On the surface, a fairly evident comparison can be made between White and the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Vereen. Both are slightly undersized, shifty backs who have shown a nice ability to operate in space. In addition, both displayed a knack for catching the ball: White had 73 catches as a collegian (including 39 last year), while Vereen had 74 at Cal.

“I’€™d say there are a lot of similarities to Vereen –€“ size wise, skills wise, production,” Belichick said of the White/Vereen comparison. “I’€™d say he’€™s a guy that has shown he has four-down value. He’€™s been productive in the kicking game, he’€™s been productive catching the ball. He has a high average per carry. He can run inside. He can run outside. He makes good space plays and he can get some tough yards.

“I mean, he’€™s not a big power back. We’€™re not talking about LeGarrette Blount ‘€“ that’€™s not his thing. But I think there are some similarities to Vereen, absolutely.”

“He’s a great player. He’s a very versatile guy — a guy who can run, catch, do it all,” White said of Vereen. “Special teams in the return game. He’s a guy I can learn from.”

But as a back in the passing game, receiving is just one part of being able to stay on the field. You also have to show pass protection skills, something White flashed at Wisconsin.

The keys to being good at pass protection? “Attack the defender and move your feet and use your hands,” he said.

“I was used a lot — I was our main pass protector, so I think that will help me at the next level,” White added.

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