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Monday, August 21, 2017

Rex Burkhead looks like a perfect fit in New England Patriots offense




New England Patriots running back Rex Burkhead (34) celebrates with teammates after he scored a touchdown against the Houston Texans during the first half of an NFL football preseason game Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

By Kevin Duffy
August 19, 2017

HOUSTON -- Rob Gronkowski played in a preseason game for the first time in five years, the celebrated duo of Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore made their Patriots debuts, and Tom Brady played his first snap at age 40.

And the star of the night?

That would be Rex Burkhead, the former Bengals running back who, in less than two quarters of action Saturday, emphatically stated his case to be the Patriots starter in 2017.


Burkhead ran well between the tackles, ripping off an 8-yard gain on his first carry. He held steady for a crucial blitz pickup against Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, who otherwise had a clear path to Brady. He looked natural as a receiver, too. Burkhead made a nice adjustment on a ball thrown toward the sideline, then ran around a defender to the outside to pick up 16 yards, most of which came after the catch.

And Burkhead shook Texans rookie linebacker Zach Cunningham on an angle route over the middle. He practically walked into the end zone for a 22-yard score at the beginning of the second quarter.

Burkhead's combination of tough running and advanced route running makes him a perfect fit for the Pats.

"Rex has always been a good, hard running back at Nebraska and at the end of the season last year when he played for Cincinnati," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said earlier this month.
"So, he hasn't had a ton of carries in the regular season in these four years, but he had a lot up in Nebraska and he had some at the end of the year. But, I mean, he's a tough kid that can catch the ball, plays in the kicking game - good, versatile set of skills."

Burkhead finished with 70 yards from scrimmage on 10 touches.


Burkhead's main competitor for top running back duties, Dion Lewis, looked sharp, as well. Lewis carried seven times for 34 yards in the first half, showcasing the burst and elusiveness that made him a star in 2015.

On one run, Lewis sidestepped a Texans defender deep in the backfield, evaded another near the line of scrimmage, and surged forward for a 5-yard gain (the play was nullified due to a holding penalty).

As Mike Gillislee continues to sit out with a hamstring injury, Burkhead and Lewis have excelled.

Gillislee may have some ground to make up when he returns.

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