FOXBOROUGH — Former Wisconsin running back James White is more than accustomed to bidding for his playing time against the strongest stables of competition.
White did not emerge as the Badgers’ starting back until his senior season, when he rushed for 1,444 yards and 13 touchdowns, and even then he was splitting time with sophomore Melvin Gordon, who rushed for 1,609 yards and 12 scores.
In his sophomore and junior seasons, White split time with Montee Ball — the Denver Broncos’ second-round selection in 2013. As a freshman, despite splitting time with John Clay and Ball, White led the Badgers with 1,052 yards and was second with 14 touchdowns.
Every season, no matter who was in the backfield, White kept his nose to the grindstone and worked hard for his playing time, finishing his career with the fourth-most rushing yards (4,015) and third-most rushing touchdowns (45) in program history.
The Patriots selected White with the 130th overall pick in the fourth round of Saturday’s NFL Draft. When White finally arrives in New England, he’ll be ready to do more of the same, competing with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden.
“It wasn’t that difficult. I just played my role on the team,” White said. “Something I have to do once I get to this organization is play my role. Wherever the coach puts me, I’m going to go out there, whether it’s special teams or offense or whatever they want me to do, I’m going to go out there and do everything I can to help the team, just like I did at Wisconsin.”
The Patriots’ returning running backs all bring different assets to the rushing attack. Along with fullback James Develin, they are all in the final year of their contracts, and it will be interesting to see how White fits in.
It’s possible White can emerge as Vereen’s backup on passing downs. White set the Wisconsin record for most receiving yards by a running back (670).
“I’d say there’s probably a lot of similarities to Vereen, size-wise, skills-wise, production,” Bill Belichick said of White. “They’ve had a lot of good backs come out of Wisconsin. He’s a guy that has shown he has four-down value.”
What’s most impressive is White has only fumbled twice in 754 career touches, a statistic that makes him seem like an ideal fit for Belichick, who puts a premium on ball security.
“It’s very important for any running back. Ball security is job security,” White said. “If you want to be on a football team, you have to hold on to the football.”
Before the NFL Draft began Thursday, the Patriots added a veteran piece to the defense when they signed end Will Smith.
Smith, who spent 10 seasons with the Saints, missed all of 2013 because of a torn ACL. After the draft concluded Saturday, Belichick addressed the signing.
“We visited Will maybe three weeks ago. Will’s had a very productive career,” Belichick said. “He had the knee injury last year and was released. He still has some rehabilitation to do so we felt that he’s moving along and going in the right direction. We’ll see how it all turns out.”
Belichick compared the signing to that of defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, a 10-year veteran whom the Patriots signed prior to last season.
Belichick said that the seven drafted players are scheduled to arrive on Monday. Since the draft was pushed back two weeks, there is no official rookie camp. “They’ll come in Sunday and we’ll start working with them Monday,” Belichick said. “There’s nothing like before with the rookie camps and send them home. Now with the draft so late, we’ll just bring them in and keep them here and they’ll go through to the veteran minicamp. It’s one straight shot.” . . . The Patriots signed East Carolina tight end Justin Jones, according to a source close to the situation. They also signed tight end Tyler Beck from Bowling Green, according to a tweet from the university. Oklahoma running back Roy Finch also signed with the Patriots, according to a tweet from KMM Sports, which represents Finch.