It would be impossible to replace a player like James White, a long-time leader and veteran who always knows the right thing to do on and off the field. When White went down last weekend against the Saints, it was a huge blow to the offense, especially as the captain looked to be bouncing back after a difficult 2020, leading the team in receptions through two games.
Now, White's expected absence puts a spotlight on the rest of the running back room, including second-year player J.J. Taylor who was dynamic in the preseason, rushing for 173 yards on 23 carries, and grabbing 10 receptions for 62 yards. Throw in kickoff and punt returns and Taylor led the Patriots in preseason all-purpose yardage with 371 total yards.
"I can honestly say [James White] is one of the biggest leaders on the team and for me, he's just been showing me the path, giving me tips and just been a mentor to me, helping me out when times get tough, keeping me pushing when things are going good and making sure I'm staying in my lane and doing the things I'm supposed to do," said Taylor on Thursday evening.
White's absence will leave a significant hole in the offensive attack and Taylor's quickness and burst are intriguing elements that could be given an expanded role, especially on passing downs.
Last season, Taylor showed some of his potential, appearing in six games and doing a little of everything, posting 212 total yards. That included 11 carries for 43 yards against the Raiders, his most promising appearance of the season. And that came off an impossibly difficult 2020 season for the rookie, as Taylor has settled into a more normal process in 2021.
"I'm a lot more comfortable," said Taylor. "Last year, came into it, didn't have a rookie minicamp, didn't have any off-season training with the team, so it was just coming in and trying to learn everything. I know we had the virtual meetings and things like that but now with time being around the guys, being around the coaches more, getting more hands-on with everything, it's made a huge difference."
With a matchup against Tampa Bay on slate for Sunday, we'll find out what the coaching staff has in store for the promising back. Taylor is ready for whatever comes his way.
"I'm always excited to play football," said Taylor. "Any chance to get on the field you take it but also praying for James, wishing him the best and we'll see him when he gets back."