FOXBOROUGH — Ralph Webb, all smiles, bounded up to Geneo Grissom in the Patriots locker room.
Webb was giving thanks for Grissom’s scoop-and-almost-score that set up his second touchdown of the night during New England’s preseason-opening 26-17 win over the Washington Redskins Thursday. Grissom was ruled down at the 1-yard line after a fumble recovery and 53-yard run for the end zone in the fourth quarter, and Webb punched it in.
“Hey, man, I’m just padding stats,” Grissom joked in return.
An undrafted rookie like Webb, though, will take any opportunity he can get to showcase himself. With first-round pick Sony Michel and veteran Rex Burkhead banged up, and James White resting with several other starters, running backs further down the depth chart had time to shine Thursday, and what they revealed was a strong competition for the final spot in the position group.
“I think we have good depth and competition at running back, coach Bill Belichick said after the game. “All those guys have performed well in the spring, in training camp, and the ones that played tonight had an opportunity.”
Mike Gillislee got the start and ran for 43 yards on 14 carries (3.1 yards per carry), but Jeremy Hill was more impressive with 51 yards on 11 carries (4.6 yards per carry) and a touchdown.
Hill said he’s lost some weight in the offseason and that he felt quicker than he has in the past . He could easily take a roster spot from Gillislee if he equals or surpasses his performances, as Hill is on a one-year deal worth up to $1.5 million with only $150,000 guaranteed. Gillislee’s cap hit is over $2 million.
“I think for me I’ve got to do everything that I can on special teams and on offense and whatever else the team needs me to do to help this team win games, so whatever it is I’m going to go out there and try to do it at a high level,” Hill said.
“Hopefully, you know, I can get a prominent role in the offense,” he added.
“But if not, that’s the case, and whatever the coaches have for me that’ll be good for me. I just want to make the team and continue to try to help this team win.”
Along with Hill and Gillislee, the undrafted rookie Webb ran for 46 yards on 14 carries (3.3 yards per carry) and was in the end zone four times, twice with touchdowns and twice with two-point conversions.
“It’s a dream come true,” Webb said. “I’ve been working my whole life for this, to come out here and get a chance to compete. I’m just happy and I’m blessed to be able to be here and say that I did it.”
After the game, Belichick gave Webb a shoutout in front of the rest of the team. Later, as players were going to and from their lockers and the showers, they continued to congratulate the former Vanderbilt Commodore, who is the sixth-leading rusher in SEC history.
“He’s a tough kid, runs with good pad level, he’s got good speed. Catches the ball well,” Belichick said. “He made a nice catch on the 2-point play. That’s not an easy, I mean, it was a low ball. He made a good adjustment on the catch and got it in.
“But he’s been pretty, he’s been kind of like that going all the way back to his freshman year, his career at Vanderbilt. Got a lot of production down there, ran hard. Took a lot of hits like all the backs do in that conference. He’s given us that same type of effort so it’s good to be able to see him in game action break some tackles, get downhill.”
Belichick said that running the ball later in the game helped the Patriots offense, which got off to a shaky start, settle down. It may have made a few roster decisions down the line a bit harder in the process.