Thursday, June 08, 2017

Rex Burkhead making a strong impression at Patriots minicamp

HOPING TO CATCH ON: New Patriots running back Rex Burkhead looks in a pass during yesterday’s workout at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Nancy Lane

By Carl Brooks

June 8, 2017

FOXBORO — Rex Burkhead is still new to the Patriots roster. But the running back was easily one of the best offensive players on the field yesterday during the second day of minicamp.

Signed as a free agent away from Cincinnati, Burkhead established a strong connection with Tom Brady, catching all five passes from the quarterback during 11-on-11 drills.

And while he may be new, he seems to know the way to answer questions in typical, understated Patriots style.

So to what did he attribute his success with Brady?

“Just making sure I was on my assignments. I still have a lot of room to get better and improve my game,” he said. “I still have room to get comfortable and make sure I know what I’m doing.”

Burkhead saw plenty of first-team reps, catching passes from both Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo. He pulled in passes while working from all over the field, coming out of the backfield, shifting out to the slot and lining up outside. He was even spotted on the punt coverage team, communicating well when asked to do so.

With a loaded depth chart at the running back position, Burkhead will have to continue to showcase his versatility as he jostles for playing time.

“Whatever role they want to put me in, I’m up for,” he said plainly when asked about the difference in how he was used with the Bengals with how the Patriots have used him so far. “Whatever way or role gives us the best chance to win.”

Burkhead is in the midst of a huge transition, going from being a seldom-used target in the Bengals offense to being asked to be a do-it-all option in this offense. With all due respect to Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis, there is a different level of talent on the Patriots with Brady and Bill Belichick.

So Burkhead knows how important these practices are, even in June, as he seeks to earn Brady’s trust.

“It’s huge,” he said. “Learning the system, making sure I know what to do when I’m out there . . . learning from the mistakes you make the day before and knowing (your job) day in and day out.”

When pushed further on the difference in culture between Cincinnati and the Pats, Burkhead gave a telling answer, one that focused on the improvement in weather from Tuesday to Wednesday. It seems that he’s already fallen in line and has learned to give generic media answers when in a tough spot.

“The rain is good for us. We’re probably going to play in a rain game sometime during the year. Rain, snow, whatever, so (yesterday) was good for us. Especially with catching the ball, ball handling, anything like that. Helps us stay in top of our game.”

With only 121 career touches (87 rushing attempts, 74 of which came last season, and 34 receptions) in his four seasons, Burkhead is still somewhat of an unknown commodity who has shown flashes when given the opportunity.

Yesterday could qualify as one of those flashes, and one area that stood out was in the red zone. Burkhead looked fluid in his footwork inside the 20-yard line and had many reps in that spot.

Knowing the importance of those plays to the Patriots offense, he’ll make himself indispensable if he continues to thrive in that position.

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