James White’s patience leads to big plays
FOXBOROUGH — James White has one of the sweetest nicknames in football. But the man they call “Sweet Feet” will be the first to tell you he wasn’t so enamored with the moniker when it was first bestowed on him in high school.
“I didn’t like it first, then I kind of stuck with it,’’ White said as he laughed at the memory.
The 5-foot-10-inch, 205-pounder’s fancy footwork on the field caught the eye of his creative writing teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who came up with the creative handle for the runner who can get pretty creative with the ball in his hands.
For his latest example, check out his 36-yard catch-and-run from Tom Brady in New England’s 33-13 win over Cleveland last Sunday. On the play, White grabs a quick screen pass and weaves his way around the left end, dodging several tackles along the way to the Browns 9.
White, who has great open-field vision and feel, also got several crunching blocks, including one from receiver Julian Edelman, who eliminated a couple of Browns with one hit.
“Screen plays are team plays. The offensive line has to do a great job. I have to do a good job, the receivers have to do a good job, and the quarterback,’’ said White. “So any time we have success on [those] — [center] David Andrews I believe had a good block and then Julian took out two people. It was just a great team play.’’
White acknowledged he didn’t see Edelman’s double-KO until the film session and confirmed it got a nice reaction from the viewers.
White’s contributions in Cleveland got somewhat overlooked with the gaudy numbers put up by Brady, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, and receiver Chris Hogan, but he showed he can make an impact, too.
He had four catches for 63 yards but also added a career-high 26 rushing yards on five carries as he helped spell LeGarrette Blount, who was slowed by a hip ailment. White consistently does his best work in space and has a knack for finding cutback lanes and making yards at the second and third levels. He said patience is a big key to having success in that area.
“You just trust your blocking and sometimes you anticipate, you have a split second to make a reaction,’’ said White. “You just work on it during practice. If you happen to see a guy in the hole, you kind of see him a little bit and have a feel for him and make sudden movements and just try to gain yards.’’
White’s role in the offense has continued to evolve since he arrived as a fourth-round pick from Wisconsin, where he was a bell-cow rusher, picking up 4,015 yards in four seasons. As a Patriot, he’s been used primarily as a receiver out of the backfield but showed last week he can chip in as a rusher, too.
White said he’s been working on every aspect of his game, including blitz pickup, and always had faith in his ability at this level, again citing patience as a key.
“I’m just trusting my reads and trying to make good decisions. When I have an opportunity to make a play, I make a play, but try not to do too much. I take those 2-yard gains, those 1-yard gains and then big ones may happen later in the game.’’
Despite the slow start to his career, White said he never doubted his abilities to contribute to this team.
“My confidence never wavered. You’re not always going to strike gold right away,’’ he said. “You have to be patient with it and when you get your opportunities, you make good plays you have to make [the most of] those opportunities.’’
Bill Belichick said he’s seen steady improvement from White.
“James has been a solid player for us for the last two years. I think [with] a little more experience, there are some fine points that he’s better on,’’ said the coach. “He’s done a good job with the ball in his hands, making guys miss, making plays in space. We saw that last year.
“I think he’s in good condition. He’s able to consistently throughout the course of the game do those things, get open, catch the ball, make guys miss, very good in blitz pickup, smart kid. He’s a very consistent, dependable player.’’
And he has some sweet feet, too.