Shortly after the Patriots completed their third day of OTA practices, and first open to the media, behind Gillette Stadium, running back Tyler Gaffney spoke about the uncommon start to his professional career. Gaffney was injured during training camp as a rookie sixth-round pick with Carolina last summer, but before the Panthers could place him on injured reserve, the Patriots claimed him off waivers.
He spent the entire year on IR in New England, doing whatever he could to immerse himself in the offense and provide assistance. But in terms of starting his career, Gaffney's path was unlike most.
"Definitely a different route than most but there are plenty of different guys in my shoes that have done the same thing," the affable Stanford grad said. "I talked to some of the players on the team and they kind of helped guide me through from the Panthers to here. I'm glad to have been in the position I'm in. This is the Patriots – one of the top-tier teams in the league – and I'm glad to be a part of it."
Just how big a part remains to be seen. Gaffney enjoyed a monster senior season at Stanford, racking up 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns on 330 carries, which translates to a healthy 5.2-yard average. The 24-year-old spent a season playing professional baseball prior to his senior year, and the 6-1, 226-pounder wasn't drafted until the sixth round by the Panthers.
Yet he has intrigued many Patriots fans based on Bill Belichick's decision to claim him off waivers, and the fact that the team's running back committee appears to be a bit short in numbers at this point. LeGarrette Blount is by far the most experienced ball carrier of the group, but he's joined by Jonas Gray, special teamer Brandon Bolden, untested James White and Travaris Cadet and Dion Lewis – a pair of pass-catching backs who don't figure to factor into the mix as runners much. And Blount will miss the opener against Pittsburgh while serving a one-game suspension.
That leaves an opportunity for Gaffney, who produced mostly as a between-the-tackles power back in college, where he caught just 32 passes in four years.
"That's what Stanford asked me to do," Gaffney said of carrying the load. "I was all over the place during my career there and now I'm here and wherever they put me is where I'll be OK."
When pressed further, Gaffney displayed wisdom beyond his years when he spoke about the need to be versatile. In order to perform in the Patriots offense, a back needs to prove he can handle various tasks to stay on the field on all three downs.
"To make it in this league you're going to need to be able to pass protect," Gaffney said before the question was even completed. "Unless you prove you can block, you're not going to be on the field very long."
A few days of OTA work won't determine what role if any Gaffney might have, but for now he's enjoying the experience and looking forward to working every day – especially after sitting around for a year while injured.
"This is my first year. I got hurt, dealt with the cards I was dealt and went from there," he said. "Next thing I knew I was on the Patriots. It was good to be around. I was around every day. The big thing is control what you can control. That's what I did. I showed up every day, provided any knowledge or help that I could.
"Whatever coach says, that's what I'm trying to do. If that's what I'm asked I'll do it the best that I can."