Last fall Patriots running back Jonas Gray lived maybe the most quietly and curiously tumultuous season in the NFL.
The first-year running back went from the New England practice squad to the cover of Sport Illustrated. He then concluded the championship campaign as a forgotten healthy scratch in three of the final four games of the year, including Super Bowl XLIX.
His breakout 201-yard, four-touchdown performance in Week 11 in Indianapolis earned him the SI cover as well as AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
I know this is a new year, clean slate. I'm looking forward to the opportunity.
But just days after the magazine hit the mailboxes of Patriots Nation, Gray reportedly overslept and was late for a Friday of work at Gillette Stadium. A Sunday after carrying the Patriots to victory over the Colts, Gray was dressed but did not play a single snap against the Lions.
At the same time LeGarrette Blount re-joined the Patriots and Gray became an afterthought on the offense. He played just five more games and had 9 yards or less in four of the five as Blount and Shane Vereen handled the bulk of the backfield duties.
But, that was last year. Ideally it was a learning experience for the former Notre Dame player, undrafted free agent and bruising ball carrier.
"I try not to focus on last year," said Gray, who appears to have bulked up a bit in his lower body this offseason. "I did take some things away from it. But I know this is a new year, clean slate. I'm looking forward to the opportunity."
Looking ahead to 2015, the roles in the Patriots backfield are indeed very much up in the air. Blount is the clear returning starter and workhorse. But Stevan Ridley jetted across the border to Gang Green while Vereen also moved on to New York with the Giants.
Beyond Gray, 2014 fourth-round pick James White is back after essentially a redshirt rookie season. Tyler Gaffney returns from a rookie year on IR. Brandon Bolden is a key special teamer and occasional backfield fill-in. Travaris Cadet brings pass-catching ability with him from New Orleans.
On paper, the result is the most dubious running back depth chart that the Patriots have had in the Brady era. Add in the fact that Blount will have to serve a one-game NFL suspension on opening night and it's quite clear there are plenty of reps and roles up for grabs this summer in Foxborough.
"Every day is an opportunity for somebody to get better, for somebody to do something, myself included," Gray acknowledged after a recent OTA practice session. "Every day I'm working on just being a better pro, doing whatever I can to stay focused and make sure I'm doing whatever I can to help the team."
And while he's focused on looking ahead, rather than back at the good and the bad from his first season in New England, Gray does feel better prepared for life on the Patriots in his second summer at Gillette.
"The experience helps knowing what the expectations are for a team like this, for the New England Patriots," Gray said. "Every day you just come out and compete. That's the same thing I did last year."