The New England Patriots selected Garrett Mills 106th overall in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL draft and signed a deal with him on July 18th. His versatility has made it difficult to define his position-type. Officially listed as a tight end at Tulsa, Mills also played H-back, fullback, long snapped, played on special teams and even played some defense his senior year, recording four tackles. He was Tulsa's equivalent of that kid who played on everyone's Pop Warner team that somehow had a moustache and biceps, being thrown in wherever he was needed because he was the best fill (even if he'd never really played the position).
"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."
It seems the best thing about his versatility is his willingness to accept it. He doesn't mind playing any position and is a true team player, which is something that surely caught coach Bill Belichick's eye before the draft. Soon after the draft, Mills' conveyed his continued work ethic and team-oriented mindset, saying:
"I'm going to come into this organization and do whatever's asked of me. If coach Belichick wants me to play a little tight end, I'll do that. If he wants me to play a little fullback, I'll do that. If he wants me to do 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."
Despite his overt modesty and concern for the team, Mills is not a meek player on the field. In fact, although he's been criticized for his smaller-than-average size for a tight end, Mills was quite a presence as a Golden Hurricane. During his college career, Mills caught 201 passes—the second-most grabs by a tight end in NCAA Division 1-A history.
Last season he pulled in 87 catches – three shy of the Division 1-A record for tight ends – and kept his feet moving to finish with an average of 14.2 yards-per catch. The 1,235 yards he amassed in 2005 set an NCAA single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end.
Mills played in all 50 games while he was at Tulsa and started 33 of them. He proved himself to be pretty durable overall and caught at least one pass in 40 consecutive games, which was the longest current streak among the nation's tight ends when the 2005 season ended. He also had eight games in which he gained 100 yards or more.
With all the attention focused on Vernon Davis' freakish numbers, Mills actually did very well in the agility drills at the NFL combine, proving himself to be one of the two most agile tight ends there (second, perhaps to Broncos second-rounder Tony Scheffler – the two of them battled for top times in the three-cone, short shuttle, and long shuttle).
He may not be the biggest guy in the NFL, but Mills has quick feet and good hands. He'll likely play an H-back role for the Patriots and has been compared to current Redskin Chris Cooley for his skill-set and overall athleticism. He may also have a lot to contribute on special teams, as he did 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 was born and raised in Tulsa and his father and uncle played there before him. With versatility being of key importance to the Patriots, hopefully he'll feel right at home in New England.
Also: Patriots.com has launched it's 2006 Training Camp section. If you are planning on attending a public practice at Gillette Stadium this section is a great place to start. Here you will find the latest practice schedule, Patriots Experience times, news, features and photos of training camp as well as general information on parking, concessions, autographs and directions to Gillette Stadium.
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