The term versatility gets thrown around a lot when describing a football player but in Garrett Mills' case, it's a deserving label. At Tulsa, Mills was a jack-of-all-trades. He played tight end, H-Back, fullback, special teams and even filled in as the deep snapper for three games when the starting long snapper was injured.
"The guy is amazing," Tulsa's tight end coach Matt Wells said. "Garrett never long snapped in his life and when we needed someone, he stepped right in and did it for three games. He did everything for us at Tulsa. Heck, he even returned punts in the Oklahoma game. No lie, a tight end returning punts. That's the kind of kid he is. He'll do anything to help his team win."
Wells coached Mills for four years at Tulsa and he believes the Patriots and their fans are going to fall in love with him because of the kind of person he is on and off the field.
"Coach Belichick is going to love him because of his work ethic," Wells said. "Garret Mills is one of the best player I ever coached and he's even a better person than he is a player.
"I told him after he was drafted that New England was the best place he could have gone because they value character, work ethic, college graduates and good teammates and he's all of those things. The Patriots value everything he's about."
If Mills is a better person than he is a player, then that says a lot about the former Tulsa standout because he's a heck of a player. As a senior, Mills set an NCAA single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end when he hauled in 1,235 yards on 87 receptions. He scored nine touchdowns and gained over 100 yards receiving in seven games.
Mills' versatility actually hurt him during his record-breaking season. Despite being a finalist for the John Mackey Award – which recognizes the best tight end in college football – during his junior season, Mills was ineligible as a senior because the committee said he wasn't a "true" tight end. However, he was good enough to make seven All-American teams as a tight end.
"I get asked about that a lot," Mills said. "People are probably trying to get me to say that I don't think that's right but I'm not going to do that at all. That's not what I'm about."
Steve Kragthorpe – the head coach at Tulsa – wasn't surprised by Mills' response.
"He's the consummate team player," Kragthorpe said. "He'd trade any individual award for the success of the team. That's why he was so respected here"
Mills seems like a perfect fit for the Patriots. Not only is he versatile and displays a tremendous work ethic but he's extremely intelligent. He graduated from Tulsa with a 3.91 grade point average in business management with a minor in accounting. Mills also shows his intelligence when it comes to knowing the game of football.
"Garrett is a very, very smart football player," Wells said. "He understands concepts and techniques and absorbs everything you throw at him mentally. He was smart enough to line up at five different formations and about 20 different spots for us, so you don't have to worry about him not being able to learn a playbook."
"If the coach is making up a new play, I don't just want to know what I do on that play," Mills said. "I want to know what everyone else does and how the concept came about."
While it sounds like Mills will fit in nicely with the Patriots, he was a bit of a surprise selection. Mills was selected in the fourth round; just one round after the team took Texas tight end David Thomas. Even with the selection of Thomas, Wells wasn't concerned when Mills went to New England.
"They obviously have a plan for both guys," Wells said. "After the celebration of being drafted, Garrett came up to me and expressed concerns that the team just selected Thomas before him. I told him the Patriots had all Saturday night and Sunday morning to look at their draft board and they still took him with the ninth pick in the fourth round. They have a plan for him. A team like that doesn't draft someone without having a plan."
Thomas is more of a traditional tight end while Mills is a player the Patriots can move around in a lot of different formations. Wells compared him to current Redskins H-Back Chris Cooley, because both players can do so many different things to help an offense. Mills will also be an asset on special teams - an area he excelled in at Tulsa.
"He won't have to be sold on playing special teams," Wells said. "He played special teams at Tulsa and never begged off from it. He'll run 80 yards for a touchdown, go over and block for the extra point and then play on kick coverage without ever coming over to the sideline."
Mills isn't sure where he'll play in New England but he's prepared to contribute in any way he can.
"I'm going to come into this organization and do whatever is asked of me," Mills said. "If Coach Belichick asks me to play a little tight end, I'll do that. If it's fullback, I'll do that. If it's a little bit of both, even better. I'm just happy to be a Patriot. I don't think there is a better overall organization in the NFL and I just want to do my part so the team can continue to have success in the future."
What the Patriots are getting in Garrett Mills is versatility. Not only on the football field – where he can help the team in a lot of different ways – but as a person. Mills is someone with high moral character who works hard and puts the team above any personal accolades. A lot of people were surprised when the Patriots selected Mills in the fourth round but it sounds like Mills and New England are a perfect fit.
When asked what he would like Patriots fans to know about Mills, Wells responded, "Tell the people up there the Patriots got a great player, a great teammate and a great person. There aren't too many Garrett Mills in this world, I can tell you that. If it's third-and-5, look for Garret because he'll be open. Everyone in New England is going to love him."