FOXBOROUGH — Football fans in Madison, Wis., and Columbia, S.C., can root for either team in Sunday’s Patriots-Chargers matchup.
That’s because college teammates who played in each city will play significant roles on either side of the AFC playoff tussle . New England’s James White and Los Angeles’s Melvin Gordon shared a backfield and a notorious touchdown dance at Wisconsin from 2011-13; New England’s Stephon Gilmore and Los Angeles’s Melvin Ingram overlapped from 2009-11 on the South Carolina defense.
Both duos weren’t just teammates but good friends. White calls Gordon his “little brother” and even had Gordon live at his house in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., during the offseason. Gilmore has memories of a “messy” dorm room shared with Ingram and two other teammates.
Since they know each other so well, we asked the players to give scouting reports on each other to illuminate how they’ve grown from college to the NFL.
James White and Melvin Gordon:
White and Gordon tore up Big Ten defenses under head coach Bret Bielema, now a coaching consultant with the Patriots. The two combined for 3,363 yards from scrimmage in 2013, most of it coming on the ground. Both players commented on how they’ve taken on bigger roles as pass catchers in the NFL.
“He’s always been able to do everything,” White said of Gordon. “I think he’s gotten better as a pass catcher. He’s one of the top yard-after-catch guys in the league so he’s been getting better and better with that each year.”
Gordon said the same of White, but stood up for his “big brother” as a between-the-tackles runner, a role the Patriots only put him in in a pinch.
“I think he’s a great running back but he doesn’t get that many opportunities to run the ball, which is unfortunate,” Gordon said. “I’m not on the coaching staff there so I can’t do anything about it, but he can run the ball. But he kills people out of the backfield, being lined up against linebackers.
“He prides himself on winning those matchups, so we’ve just got to be ready for him. They nickel and dimed us last year, him and Dion Lewis kind of murdered us.”
White did kill the Chargers out of the backfield last year, with 5 catches on 6 targets for 85 yards, and should be a major factor again Sunday going against a banged-up linebacker group.
Stephon Gilmore and Melvin Ingram:
Gilmore was a freshman in 2009 when he met Ingram, who was in the process of switching positions and coming back from injury.
“First of all, he got recruited as a safety,” Gilmore said. “But then he broke his ankle, gained like 30 pounds, and moved to linebacker. Then his last year he moved to D-end and just took off. That’s how you get his athleticism, because he was a safety. It was crazy. That’s why he’s athletic like he is. And he’s big, strong. It’s no surprise with how athletic he is and how powerful he is.”
That 2011 Gamecocks defense was stacked, with Gilmore, Ingram, and fellow future NFLers D.J. Swearinger and Jadeveon Clowney. They finished 11-2, ranked ninth in the AP poll, and allowed 18.4 points per game.
Ingram had a dominant season with 15 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and 2 interceptions. Gilmore had four interceptions. They were both in the NFL the following season.
When Gilmore watches Ingram now, he still sees the quickness and field vision of a converted safety, just a lot bigger and stronger. He didn’t know Ingram until he was playing linebacker but he did know Ingram was making big changes physically by watching him in the dining hall and snacking in their room.
“I think he was eating too much,” Gilmore said with a smile.
Both duos are keeping their distance this week. They go way back, but they’ll catch up another time when they can talk about the teams they were on together, not the ones playing for a chance to go to the AFC Championship game.