The University of Georgia has churned out some talented running backs over the decades, with Patriots rookie Sony Michel the most recent to ascend to the NFL. His predecessors include such prestigious names as Herschel Walker, Terrell Davis, Todd Gurley, and others.
"I wouldn't say I'm a great at Georgia," Michel demurred when this fact was brought to his attention Sunday, "but Georgia has some great backs. It's cool to see guys come out of there.
"The Patriots have some great backs, too. And I'm actually getting a chance to learn from some of them: James White, Brandon [Bolden], Rex [Burkhead], a lot of those guys in that room I get to learn from, and I think that's pretty cool, also."
"He's a great kid," Burkhead remarked about his rookie teammate. "He's got a lot of talent and it's been fun to work with him. He's a humble kid. Not coming in with a lot of rah-rah talking. He's just coming in, head down, doing his job."
After four days of training camp, what has Michel learned so far from his veteran backfield mates?
"When you make a mistake, try not to make that mistake again," answered Michel, "and keep moving forward. Keep getting better each day."
Michel has made a few mistakes during this camp, notably losing control of the football at times in each of the first three days of practice. Fumbling plagued him during his Georgia career as well, but he maintains he's working hard to correct that issue with a positive mindset. He protected the ball well throughout Day 4's practice.
"You've got to keep pushing forward. I had a whole practice to go. That was yesterday. Got to keep moving forward. Ball security is important in football, period, no matter what position you play."
As one of New England's two first-round draft choices this year, Michel has an opportunity to be an integral part of the Patriots offense – particularly with Dion Lewis now carrying the ball in Tennessee.
"My thoughts," he continued, "are to come in and learn as much as possible to do whatever is asked of me. No matter what it is, I have to be willing to do it."
So far, it looks as though Michel has been willing to do almost everything asked of him as a Patriot – even wearing the unorthodox jersey number of 51. Of course, that will eventually change. Per NFL rules, running backs are only allowed to wear numbers between 20 and 49 once the regular season begins.
Michel was asked by a reporter when he expects to receive a real running back number and if there was any message sent by the team by issuing him a linebacker's digits for camp.
"This is my real number," Michel insisted with a straight face. "This is what they gave me; this is what I'm rolling with."
Step-ping up his game
In his second training camp as a Patriot, Stephon Gilmore has looked much more comfortable in his role as the team's top cornerback. He's consistently covered well during the first four practices and made some eye-popping pass breakups during drills and team periods.
"I feel good… Yeah, I feel better," Gilmore admitted Sunday. "Just getting used to the coaching and practices and how the Patriots do things. I feel better this year, but it's still going to take a lot of hard work to be successful. Still got a long way to go, but stacking days up and getting better every day."
The few times Gilmore has given up passes in practice, it hasn't been by much. The veteran has been very competitive with whoever has lined up against him on offense.
"We're making each other better," he observed. "We've got a lot of talent on offense, but we're pushing each other, making plays, flying around, and it's fun to watch."
A Wise man once said…
Gilmore isn't the only Patriots defender enjoying a strong start to 2018 training camp. Second-year defensive end Deatrich Wise has also made plays consistently over the first four days.
"Coaches always tell us to be disruptive," Wise told reporters Sunday. "If it's sacks, [pass breakups], closing the pocket, containing [the quarterback], putting your hand in his face, anything to disrupt the quarterback's rhythm, that's being disruptive."
Wise has done all of those things at least once in these opening days of camp while getting regular reps with the second group of defenders in team periods. Attention to detail – and his playbook – appear to be giving Wise an edge.
"I'm still trying to be a student of the game," he continued. "It's only my second year and I'm still learning, still have room to improve. While I'm learning, I'll also tell the guys that came in behind me, the rookies now, little things that helped me out, too, just like the vets did for me.
"Coach always says to keep my head down in the playbook. So, the more I can know about the defense, the more I can know about what I'm doing or what people are doing around me."
Another aspect that is helping Wise is the presence of his college coach, Bret Bielema. Now a consultant to head coach Bill Belichick, Bielema has been assisting with defensive coaching at camp this summer.
"Familiar face and familiar voice," added Wise about his former head coach. "Someone who knew you when you were young, who's on your side a little bit, and he's happy to see my growth from college."
Buy: Rex Burkhead – In his second season with New England, the veteran ball carrier has been the most consistent member of the Patriots backfield through the first four days of camp.
Sell: Jordan Matthews – After an inconsistent first three days of practice, Matthews had to leave midway through the fourth with what looked like an injury to his right hamstring.
Play of the Day: During a goal-line period, RB Brandon Bolden took a handoff to the right side and was met by safety Devin McCourty. Bolden squirmed out of McCourty's would-be tackle and appeared headed easily for the end zone, but LB Elandon Roberts came flying into the picture and leveled Bolden inches from the goal line to prevent the TD.
Quote of the Day: "When you come to the sideline and the coaches ask you what you saw, sometimes you're like, 'I don't know. I was just running.'" ~ Burkhead describing the frenetic environment of goal-line period action