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New England Patriots Super Bowl hero James White not taking role for granted

By
The Sports Xchange
New England Patriots running back James White celebrates after scoring the game-winning touchdown on a 2-yard run in overtime of Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston on February 5, 2017. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
New England Patriots running back James White celebrates after scoring the game-winning touchdown on a 2-yard run in overtime of Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston on February 5, 2017. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Last summer, a smattering of uninformed onlookers -- media and fans alike -- thought James White might be on the roster bubble for the New England Patriots.

Even though the former fourth-round draft pick was never in jeopardy of losing his job, his performance in February's Super Bowl LI victory -- three touchdowns and two-point conversion, including the game-winning score in the historic overtime -- not only cemented the passing back's status with the team but also in the Patriots' championship lore.

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Fresh off a new contract extension that could pay him $15 million over three years, White heads into his fourth season as suddenly the most established option in a crowded, new-look New England backfield.

The Patriots let LeGarrette Blount and his NFL-best, franchise-record 18 touchdowns leave via free agency after signing former Cincinnati Bengals backup Rex Burkhead and luring Buffalo Bills restricted free agent backup Mike Gillislee.

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Dion Lewis remains in the mix after working back from a torn ACL, while veteran Brandon Bolden returns as a special teams ace and versatile backup.

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Gillislee, and his 5.7-yard average a year ago, would seem likely to get plenty of carries. Burkhead will run and catch while also serving as a contributor in the kicking game. Lewis will try to get back his explosive playmaking form that made him a breakout star early in 2015 before the knee injury.

But after a combined 100 catches the last two years, including a career-high 60 last fall, and the breakout Super BOwl, White probably has the most certain role as quarterback Tom Brady's go-to guy out of the backfield. New contract and name recognition won't have White taking anything for granted, though.

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"I try to stay locked in at all times. If I get one snap or 100 snaps, I just try to stay locked in at all times," White said recently while taking a break during New England's second week of OTA practices. "That's a big part of with our team. You never know who's going to be the big guy with the most plays you just have to stay ready. You need to be ready when you're number is called."

White couldn't have come up any bigger when his number was repeatedly called against the Atlanta Falcons. He could have easily taken home the Super Bowl MVP award that went to Brady. And though White admits he's watched his game-winning touchdown "too many times," he also made it clear he's looking ahead to the challenges of a new season.

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"Just trying to put that in the past now,' White added. "It's a new season and nobody cares about that now."

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Now it's all about competition, not necessarily for roster spots but for touches in a New England offense that promises to be deep, explosive and diverse. Some have even begun to wonder if there are enough carries and pass-catching chances to keep all of the Patriots' various weapons happy. It's a high-class problem that White doesn't see as a problem at all.

"Ever since college and little league, I've always had other guys in the backfield so you just make the most of your opportunities," he said. "Everybody's going to have a role. You may play one play one game and 60 plays then next. Just be ready for the moment when your number is called."

That's something White has proven quite capable of more often than not over the last two seasons. It took some longer to notice than others, but after the Super Bowl no one is doubting White's value in New England any longer.

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