It may not have seemed like much – three carries for 12 yards – but it was meant a great deal to Jonas Gray.
Before last Thursday, the last time the Patriots running back appeared in a meaningful football game was three years ago during the 2011 season, when he was a member of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Gray suffered a right knee injury against Boston College that fall which ended his season, but he still wound up signing with the Miami Dolphins the following spring. He was placed on PUP, effectively ending his rookie year.
Last summer, he was in training camp with Miami before being released and picked up by Baltimore, where he spent 2013 on the practice squad. New England scooped him up from there this past January. He spent all spring and summer in Patriots camps, earning a job on the New England practice squad until last week. Gray was called up to the 53-man roster and finally got an opportunity to play when Stevan Ridley was placed in season-ending injured reserve with a right knee injury of his own.
"I got the call last-minute, so, I had to be prepared. I think I showed up," Gray said Tuesday.
He may not have gotten the bulk of the carries against the Jets last Thursday night at Gillette, but he helped out in pass protection for QB Tom Brady, picking up a number of New York blitzes.
"I pride myself on that," he continued. "I'm one of those bigger guys. When I get an opportunity, I know that's going to get me more opportunities on the field if I show I can do that.
"In camp, one of the full-speed things we do is blitz pickup. And on the practice squad, you're kind of a full-go player as a running back, so, going against the starters [on defense] all the time, they never give me a break. That's helped me prepare for opportunities in the game for blitz pickup."
Head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels seemed to like what they saw, telling reporters in a conference call that Gray deserves the opportunity he's been given based on what he's done so far.
"I expect that," Gray stated. "Most coaches here, they're all about trust, making sure they can trust you. I think I do a good job. I'm in the same meeting rooms as the rest of those guys, so, they expect me to know [my job]. When I do know it, I feel like they can depend on me."
Gray revealed that he got some extra coaching advice last week from another source: his mother, who made the trip from their hometown in the Detroit suburbs.
"She did. She had a couple of flight delays, but she made it on time. She was proud of me… trying to coach me up," he laughed, "trying to tell me what I should do on different plays."
Statistically, it may not have been the most auspicious NFL debut ever, but Gray was happy with it.
"When I'm in the huddle with all the starters and I look around me and Tom's calling the play, I think that's pretty much my Welcome-to-the-NFL moment. I always look at it like I'm writing a great story. It's just a page-turner, man. My support staff around me makes sure I don't overhype myself, that I just come out and prepare the same way."
Vereen family reunion
On Sunday, when the Patriots host the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium, they'll face a team that's played much better this season on the road than at home.
"It's crazy, that's just how their season's been going," running back Shane Vereen observed. "They've been playing very well on the road, so, we're expecting to play a very good Bears team."
Sunday will also be a chance for Vereen to do something he's dreamed about since childhood: play on the same football field with his brother. Vereen will face off against his younger sibling, Brock, a rookie safety for Chicago.
"I'm looking forward to it. It's exciting. Definitely going to be a great time for me and my family," the elder Vereen told reporters Tuesday. "Growing up, we talked about it a lot, but we were never on the field together at the same time because of our age difference, but now we're getting the chance and we're both really excited about it.
"But at the same time," added Vereen, "you have to get down to the basics. It would mean more if we came out on top with a victory."
Vereen said their mother would be in attendance, but that she would remain neutral when it came to picking sides.
"But I think that'll change," laughed Vereen.
The Patriots got back to practicing on Tuesday, after an entire weekend off following the Jets game.
"The rest was nice. Yeah, it was nice," remarked Vereen. "Finally got some days off. I think everyone's feeling good."
Well, maybe not everyone, Shane. At practice Tuesday, two Patriots – DE Chandler Jones and CB Darrelle Revis – were not on the field.
On a positive note, however, four players returned from injuries that cost them recent practices and game time: rookie starting center Bryan Stork (concussion), starting left guard/co-captain Dan Connolly (concussion), safety Nate Ebner (finger), and rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (finger).
WR Brandon LaFell, meanwhile, was seen with a heavy tape job on the exterior of his left ankle. He ran through his warmup drills going at what looked like full speed, but appeared to favor that left leg ever so slightly.