FOXBOROUGH — Patriots rookie running back James White may be small — he measures 5 feet 9 inches, 204 pounds — but his size belies his strength, particularly when it comes to holding onto the ball.
A fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin, White had 643 carries and 73 receptions in his career with the Badgers, and just two fumbles — one last fall and one as a freshman.
“ ‘Ball security is job security.’ That’s the quote that I know,” White said Tuesday. “All my coaches stressed that. If the ball’s in your hands, you better protect it. That’s the most important part.”
The Big Ten freshman of the year in 2010 despite splitting time with Montee Ball (now with the Broncos), White wasn’t the Badgers’ primary ball carrier until his final season. In 13 games (12 starts), he had 221 attempts for 1,444 yards, an impressive 6.5 yards per carry, and 13 rushing touchdowns. White added 39 receptions for 300 yards.
He knows that versatility will come in handy, particularly with a team like New England that asks its backs to do a number of things.
“You have to be able to do all aspects of the game as a running back,” said White. “In order for you to get on the field, you have to know all the plays.”
White cannot only carry the ball and catch it, he served as Wisconsin’s primary pass-protection back — something else the Patriots demand of their running backs.
Most rookies were already behind due to the draft being pushed back two weeks, but because of Wisconsin’s academic schedule, White missed the first week at the Patriots facility that most of the team’s rookies got last week. He was only able to join the team in the past couple of days.
But he’s done his best to jump in and learn, as quickly as he can.
“It wasn’t difficult,” he said. “I just got in my playbook, took all the things down that coach [Ivan Fears] wanted me to do and learn it as fast as possible.”
The full-team, on-field work the Patriots have done has helped, too.
“It’s been good,” said White. “That’s the way you learn material pretty fast — you go out there and you rep with the veterans and you get it down pretty fast.”
White will be looking to Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley as well, young players who have a good deal of experience in the Patriots offense.
Though he grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., playing high school ball with current Bengals back Giovani Bernard (he’s also related to NFL receivers Santana and Sinorice Moss), White does have local ties: an aunt, Desiree McNeil, lives in Attleborough.
It will be nice to have family close by, but White maintains that he’s focused on his work in Foxborough, admitting to being both nervous and excited for the opportunity with New England.
“A little bit of both,” he said. “Just nervous because you care — you want to go out there, work hard, learn the plays, and put the team first.”