Just a couple weeks after lamenting having to make a decision on undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor without seeing him in a game, Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears was happy with Taylor's debut on Sunday against the Dolphins.
The rookie chipped in four carries for 28 yards, including an impressive long of 11 yards, as well as one catch for four yards.
"The guy is really good player, good runner, he sort of fits into that mold, small backs like Sproles and those guys who have been very successful," said Fears on Wednesday, "but it really is early to begin to tag any kind of title on him or anything like that. I'll tell you what, we're really happy to have him out there, the guy is busting his butt to get it done."
For Taylor, Sunday was the culmination of a lifelong dream after navigating a near-impossible summer for an undrafted rookie.
"It felt really good," said Taylor on Wednesday afternoon via WebEx. "It's been a lifetime dream of mine to be able to play in the NFL and the first time was thrilling."
At 5'6", Taylor's size stands out but as detrimental as a lack of height can be, it can also help players like Taylor hide among the trees as he finds holes to squirt through.
"Let's put it this way, he plays hide and seek very well with the guys, he is hard to find," said Fears. "We love what he's doing."
After it initially looked like the Patriots would finally end a streak of 16 years with an undrafted rookie on their roster for opening day, Taylor made sure it extended to a 17th year, and earned his spot with an outstanding training camp.
"J.J. had a very productive training camp," said Fears. "After the first couple of days, he was quite on point, quite exciting, so we want to give him a chance."
"I was given an opportunity that most people don't get so I wasn't going to take it for granted," said Taylor of how he made it as an undrafted rookie this season. "The mindset was just to grind and embrace it."
Bill Belichick pointed out Taylor had been doing everything he possibly could but only time would tell how high his ceiling might be.
"He's out there every day, he works hard, he's one of the hardest-working rookies, one of the hardest-working kids on the team, and I think that's shown up in the improvement and the performance that he's been able to have through the course of training camp and now into the start of the regular season," said Belichick. "But, there's a long way to go. I think we'll just have to see how he develops and whether he can continue to improve and when he gets his opportunities to play, how productive he can be with those. But, he's earned what he's gotten to this point, so we'll see what happens."
Preparing for Seattle's Defense
The Patriots have had some memorable battles against Seattle's long-established defense under Pete Carroll.
"I would say there's probably not a greater discrepancy between two different types of defenses than the two that we're playing to start the season," said Josh McDaniels on Tuesday, and quarterbacks Jedd Fisch, who was Carroll's quarterbacks coach in 2010 and then spent two seasons with former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley in Jacksonville, sees why the system has been successful.
"Everything that he coaches is all about competition and he does an incredible job getting his players and teams ready to compete every single Sunday," said Fisch on Wednesday. "I worked for Pete and also Gus Bradley who came from Pete and really the system's the same in regards to they're going to constantly discuss going after the football, they're gonna constantly discuss competition."
Why has Carroll's system thrived in the NFL, where Fisch now estimates there are six or seven teams that run an offshoot of it?
"Really, the number one reason that it's survived is that it's sound," said Fisch. "They know their weaknesses and they know their strengths, so when you know your own weaknesses of your own system then you can practice against that every day and you can challenge your guys to continue to get better when you know where you're vulnerable."
With a collection of young receivers, the Patriots passing attack will be challenged. Wide receivers coach Mick Lombardi, echoed McDaniels' statements that the shift from Miami to Seattle is a tough one.
"Just the transition from that game plan to this game plan and how we're going to attack the specific scheme that's been good for so long is definitely a challenge," said Lombardi.
Practice & Roster Report
The Patriots got things started on Wednesday with a full pads practice on the lower field with everyone in attendance. A few new players were spotted, including center James Ferentz, guard Caleb Benenoch and quarterback Jake Dolegala.
The team announced later in the day that Miles Bryant, an undrafted rookie out of Washington, would be elevated to the 53-man roster. Bryant had a strong training camp, a difficult task considering the crazy offseason and the stacked depth in the Patriots secondary. He could be thrown right into the fire against Seattle's passing attack and joins with J.J. Taylor as a second undrafted rookie on the roster.
WebEx Quotes of Note
Tight ends coach Nick Caley on Ryan Izzo:
"Ryan's really worked hard, he always has, he's worked hard and I think Coach [Belicihck] touched on the fact that things haven't always gone his way. He dealt with some injuries his first year. He's worked really, really hard, he always does but this off-season especially, not having any physical work as a team, he came here in great shape, really hit the playbook, is locked in and he's very professional and he loves football and I really enjoy getting to coach him every single day and enjoy the enthusiasm he has for the game and the passion he brings."
Steve Belichick on Derek Rivers, who recorded a sack on Sunday:
"That [sack] was awesome and that wasn't the only play he made, he had some other good ones in there, too. Derek's been here for a while, has suffered a lot of unfortunate injuries. Obviously, this being my first year working with him directly as his position coach, every year he's been on IR he's always in the building, always working hard to rehab, coming back from whatever happened to him. Can't say enough good things about Derek always putting the team first, playing whatever roles we ask him to, down there in the goal line, 3rd down, early downs. Excited to have him back and it's been awesome coaching him."
Kyle Dugger on his first NFL action:
"Being able to touch the field again was a blessing. Just being out there was really exciting despite not having the fans to enjoy the game. It was great. As far as the competition, it's kind of hard to say. Obviously, there are a lot of differences in play between division two and the NFL. At the end of the day it's all football and I just kind a look at it as a thing of I don't really look at who I'm playing with I just look at the game I'm playing and how I can benefit the team and help out no matter who am I across from."