Wednesday, March 29, 2017
By Phil Perry
March 28, 2017
PHOENIX -- Rex Burkhead was buried on a deep running back depth chart in Cincinnati, but in New England he may finally have a chance to show his offensive value. That's how Burkhead's former running backs coach and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson feels, at least.
Before he was hired as Browns head coach last season, Jackson worked closely with Burkhead for three years and saw the 5-foot-10, 210-pounder's versatile skill set on a daily basis. With the Patriots, under Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels, Jackson believes Burkhead has a chance to see that skill set maximized.
"He's very talented," Jackson said during the league meetings at the Arizona Biltmore. "He's a guy that was playing behind some very talented players [with the Bengals], and so he's going to get his opportunity now, and he's going to flourish. He's a really good player. A really good player.
"He's very versatile because he's a good runner, a good pass-catcher. He's a good blocker. He's very bright. He's been a sensational special teams player there so he brings a lot of different elements to that football team."
The Patriots signed Burkhead to a one-year deal earlier this offseason that could pay him more than $3 million -- a sign that they're hoping he'll factor heavily into the offense in 2017. With LeGarrette Blount still on the free-agent market, Burkhead is currently the biggest back on the Patriots roster alongside Dion Lewis, James White and DJ Foster, and he could be in line for a significant amount of work in short-yardage situations and on first and second down.
Burkhead served primarily as a special-teamer during his four-year career in Cincinnati, but in Week 17 of last season, because of injuries to his teammates at the position, he was the Bengals lead back and ran 27 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns. We took a closer look at the qualities he put on display that day right here.
It was a performance that gave Burkhead's profile a where-did-that-come-from type of boost as he headed toward unrestricted free agency, but his head coach at the time wasn't surprised.
"Not at all. That's why we drafted him," said Bengals sideline boss Marvin Lewis, who went on to explain why Burkhead was an inconsistent offensive contributor leading up to that game.
"A lot of times when Rex got opportunities to play, he wasn't quite 100 percent and so that kind of limited him some. Even in preseason opportunities and so forth like that where you'd go into the game, and it'd be Rex's -- in my mind, Rex's ballgame -- to carry the ball in the first or second quarter and he wasn't able to suit up that day.
"That's one of the things he's battled over his career is just being 100 percent completely healthy. [But] he's just a hard-working guy who always wants to be out there."
And in New England, it looks like he'll have the chance to be out there more.
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