A year ago, the Patriots newest rookie running back, J.R. Redmond, was recovering from groin surgery and haggling about his contract. It was an inauspicious start to the Arizona State do-everything back and it led to an inconsistent season that saw Redmond struggle both mentally and physically at times while also flashing some potential at others.
Redmond arrived at his first training camp a couple weeks late and even then was unable to practice as he recovered from the surgery he underwent in June of 2000. When he did return, he had homework and tests to make up, and the cram sessions were intense. In fact, he spent much of the season copying playbook responsibilities on his wrist tape as he headed to the practice field on a daily basis. He was digesting the material on the run rather than during training camp double sessions.
Physically, he didn't touch a weight for three months and then stepped in to take the pounding relegated to NFL running backs.
"Last year I didn't have the opportunity to prepare for an NFL season," Redmond explained. "There's no possible way that you can have surgery in June, not lift weights in June, July and August, jog for a week and then get thrown in the fire and expect to produce at the NFL level and play a high caliber ball like the rest of the running backs around the league."
Redmond's numbers were hardly eye-popping during an injury-plagued rookie season that did nothing to silence doubters about his durability. He finished the year with 125 carries for 406 yards for a miniscule 3.2 yards per carry average. But those numbers may be a bit deceiving.
He earned his first career start on Oct. 22 against the Colts and ran 22 times for 97 yards while adding five receptions for 35 yards. But he didn't see much action late in that game after a minor injury winded him and kept him on the sideline in the bitter loss. It was sign of things to come in Redmond starts.
Two games later, Redmond recaptured his starting gig and rambled off 60 yards on 10 carries against the Cleveland Browns before he landed on the football at the end of a run and injured his ribs, again ending his afternoon prematurely.
Redmond's next start came four games later at Chicago and he carried six times for 18 yards in a game the Patriots ran only 13 times all day in one of their worst losses of the season. His final start came a week later when he ran 20 times for 66 yards in the cold, snowy Buffalo weather, a game he also left with a leg injury. In those four starts, Redmond totaled 58 carries for 241 yards for a respectable 4.2 yards per carry average. His spot play the rest of the season hauled down his average. In fact, in the first seven games of the season, Redmond did not play twice and averaged only 2.5 yards on 26 attempts.
"It took me halfway through the season to understand what I was doing and not just what I was doing, but why I was doing it," Redmond admitted. "That was my training camp, but when you don't lift for three months, your body is not prepared. One of the biggest things in the NFL is preparation and last year I just didn't have good preparation. Can a boxer prepare by watching film? No. He has to go out and actually fight."
That leaves the 5-11, 210-pound running back heading into his second season with durability questions looming, but with a healthy offseason of preparation under his belt, something he contends will make a big difference.
"I'm getting a chance to have a good offseason and prepare myself mentally and physically for the NFL. The only questions I have to answer are to my teammates. I have to be accountable to know what I'm doing out there on the field and I have to make plays. Those are the only things I have to do."
The biggest jump for a player is generally his first and second year, most notably because of the experience and because rookies are not permitted to spend the entire offseason learning in their new team's town. Redmond's jump could be even greater because it was an offseason spent working closely with strength coach Mike Woicik.
"I feel a lot more confident," he said. "I'm able to go out there and run around on the football field without thinking which is the biggest things because you can let your natural ability take over when you don't have to think about everything."
That added confidence and first season comprised of not only individual peaks and valleys but also a disappointing season as a team has Redmond looking forward to his first full NFL training camp — a rarity for any NFL player.
"I'm excited. I can't wait. I'm looking forward to it and it can't get here soon enough. I wasn't the player I know I could be."
Strong words that now must be backed up on the field with a healthy, productive season.