The Patriots have had their fair share of speed guys in the past who ultimately didn’t work out, but if the first impressions of Jeff Demps are any indication, they may have finally gotten it right.
The rookie made his debut for the Patriots on Friday night and got off to a shaky start, but he eventually settled in and finished strong despite New England’s 30-28 loss to the Buccaneers down in Tampa Bay.
Most felt that Demps would contribute on kickoff returns when they brought him in and he made his first one as a Patriot late in the third quarter, catching the ball 7 yards deep in the Patriots own endzone and returning it 23 yards to help give the team the ball at their own 16.
The former standout at Florida had a strong debut Friday night against the Buccaneers. (FILE:USPresswire)
He also later added a false start penalty on that same drive as a runningback with Tom Brady and the Patriots’ 1st team offense when New England had driven down to Tampa Bay’s 27. He was taken off the field after the miscue, but it wouldn’t be the end of the night for him.
He showed a bit more speed on his next kickoff return after the Buccaneers scored a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, catching the ball at New England’s 3 and darting out 21 yards out to their own 24 yard line.
Demps also had his first carry of the game with 6:27 left, with the former Florida Gator taking a viscous shot on a 3-yard run where he hesitated slightly as he was heading out of bounds and got drilled by Buccaneers safety Larry Asante.
However, three plays later he set New England up 1st and goal at the Buccaneers 9 after breaking off a 29 yard run off the left side, with Tampa Bay’s defense looking as though they were completely caught off guard with the speed of the former Olympian. Not only did he give a glimpse of how fast he was, but on the run he showed incredible quickness with his feet but even more impressive was his ability to change direction, faking left and then darting through the hole before sliding laterally out of the reach of a diving defender and then down the sideline before getting pushed out of bounds.
That play helped set up the Patriots at the one yard line where Ryan Mallett found Jeremy Ebert in the endzone two plays later on a play where Mallett did a great job rolling right and firing it right to him in the back of the endzone, which cut the Buccaneers lead to 30-21 with 4:13 to go in the game.
Demps also had a big 24 yard punt return following Tampa’s next possession, but a holding call on Malcolm Williams negated his return.
He would later add a 9-yard run on a 3rd down play which helped set up a 4th-and-1 at their own 44, which Mallett completed to Stallworth for a 10-yard pickup that kept the drive going and ultimately led to their final touchdown of the evening.
Bill Belichick certainly gave him plenty of opportunities to impress Friday night, and when asked if Tom Brady could see his new teammate making a big play in their offense, Brady felt pretty good about the first impression Demps left in his first game as a Patriot.
“You know, he got quite a bit of an opportunity tonight,” said Brady after the game. “Coach put him in a position to make some plays out there both in the return game and at runningback. It was pretty amazing to go from what he was training for for the last 6 or 8 months of his life, and to come in here and put pads on and do the same thing. So it’s really a credit to his hard work and his mental toughness.”