Talented, Athletic RB Has to Make an Impression Now
The Patriots were in on D.J Foster right after the 2016 NFL Draft was completed and made contact with the very athletic running back and wide receiver from Arizona State. The one thing that jumped off the page was his lightning quickness and impressive footspeed. But he’s missed nearly all of training camp with a lingering hamstring issue and with the clock ticking, Foster will have to make a big impression to make the team.
Foster played running back as well as a slot receiver at Arizona State. Because of that experience, he is probably a more polished route runner than any of the Patriots backs. Watching him during the June minicamp, he was quicker in and out of his cuts than any of the other backs.
“There’s a no doubt in my mind that he can make it,” for coach Todd Graham told Boston.com back when the Patriots signed him.
“And I do think that he’s got a great chance to be very productive for the Patriots, because of how he fits in their offense. It’s all about being versatile. … I think it couldn’t be the perfect fit for him. One of the most versatile players I’ve coached. A lot of coaches make that statement, but kind of what gives it validity is he had 2,500 yards rushing and 2,500 yards receiving (during his college career).”
That versatility was noted by not only the media but by the coaching staff, he was the most intriguing of the backs entering the summer. It was thought that the 6’0, 195-pound Foster could even push James White for reps and a roster spot as the third down pass receiving back.
The coaches moved him around at a variety of positions during minicamp, showing that they were trying to find a role for the talented youngster. Then came the hamstring pull and everything stopped.
“It’s been something that has just been lingering,” Foster said to the media on Tuesday. “I’ve been doing all the rehab I can and they’ve been doing a great job just continuously being involved mentally in the game and I am just learning as much as I can.”
On Monday, Foster didn’t retreat to the lower practice fields after the stretching was done as he had been, but stayed with the team, a sign he’s finally healthy and ready to contribute. But did he miss too much time with his injury?
“There have been some tough times, but my teammates and coaches have done a great job with keeping me in the mix,” Foster said. “I’m just trying to learn as much as I can, be in the classroom, be in the playbook and take as many mental reps as I can.”
If he practices all week, he could see his first NFL action against the Carolina Panthers on Friday night in the Patriots third preseason game. “Yeah, I am excited,” Foster said. “That’s up to coach (Bill) Belichick, up to the coaching staff,” Foster said. “You’ve got to ask them. But I’m going to be as prepared as I can.”
With Dion Lewis needing additional surgery, the Patriots running back roster has an open spot. LeGarrette Blount is a lock, he’s the big back that carries the ball between the tackles. He’s a proven veteran and while not great, he has the confidence in the coaching staff that he can get the job done. White, also is a lock. He’s the third down back who will catch the ball out of the backfield and has had a good summer. He’s shown that he is ready to assume the mantle in Lewis’ absence.
Bolden is close to a roster lock. He can give the team a few reps here and there on offense but is one of the core special teams guys on the roster.
That leaves one roster spot (the team normally carries four running backs) and Foster will be competing with Tyler Gaffney and Joey Iosefa for the final slot. Gaffney and Iosefa are more of the bigger back mold like Bolden, so there’s a chance that Foster can still find a niche at this late juncture.
There’s still hope for him, but if the Patriots ultimately decide that he hasn’t done enough to warrant a roster spot, he could wind up on IR and be stashed away in a red-shirt type situation for 2017. Or they could roll the dice and waive him and hope that no one claims him and put him on the practice squad for at least the beginning of the season. For now, Foster has only one goal, get on the field this week.
“I feel good,” Foster said. “I keep going and doing what I can every day and to continuously improve.”