The Patriots simply do not swoon over rookies. That said, running back James White has gotten rave reviews thus far in training camp from the likes of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and even a few of his fellow running backs who are vying with him for playing time. The 5-10, 205-pound White, who racked up 4,015 yards rushing and 45 touchdowns as a Wisconsin Badger before New England selected him in the fourth round, is thought to be pushing veteran Stevan Ridley for a starting backfield assignment and the Patriots are using him in a variety of ways, including on third downs, in goal-line situations, and in blitz pick-up. Through the first two weeks of workouts, White has been as impressive as any offensive rookie this side of Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks. SI.com’s Don Banks caught up with the most exciting rookie in New England’s camp on Tuesday afternoon Richmond, Va., where the Patriots and Redskins are conducting joint practices this week.
SI.com: There’s a growing history of Wisconsin running backs that have played in the NFL, from Ron Dayne to Michael Bennett to Montee Ball. Did that encourage you that you could be the next ex-Badger runner to make it in the league?
White: I feel like Wisconsin prepared me well for the NFL. I just wanted to take the things I learned there and take the things I’m learning here now and put them together and go play football.
SI.com: I know Patriots rookies see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil, but it’s an understatement to say you’ve flashed a little in training camp. Fourth-round pick or not, do you think you’ve made people realize you might make an early impact and force your way into the regular running back rotation more than you were expected to?
White: I just wanted to come in and learn starting from Day 1, and not take the opportunity for granted. There’s a lot of people who wish they could be in my shoes. I just want to take my opportunity and run with it.
SI.com: You were thought to be behind veteran running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen this season, but both are in their contract years. Does that give you a great chance to build a future for yourself in New England if you shine as a rookie this year?
White: They’re still guys I like to learn from. I compete with them and we make each other better. We just try to push each other and the end result is we’re all better football players.
SI.com: You’re getting more work than just the third-down back role that many projected for you. Even Bill Belichick praised your potential "to compete all three downs, in both the running game and passing game." You think you have a chance to be on the field no matter what down it is? Is that fair?
White: That’s fair. The coaches find out what each and every player is capable of doing, and if you show you’re capable of doing what they ask you to do, they’re going to throw you out there in those situations. No matter what they are. And you have to be confident in your ability to get the job done.
SI.com: You’re obviously with one of most proven and consistent offenses in the league. Why did the Pats need your game?
White: This offense is great at finding out what you do best and using you to the best of your abilities. Whatever you’re good at, that’s what they’re going to get you to do. I just want to come out here and show them what I have as a runner and receiver.
SI.com: Give me one thing about playing for Belichick that the average media member and fan does not know?
White: He’s a great coach and he’s going to push you to the limit.
SI.com: We know that. What about his sense of humor?
White: Oh, he has a sense of humor. But he’s going to keep it short and sweet. Short and sweet, and still tell you how it is. That’s all you can ask for.
SI.com: Be honest, did you get the least bit in awe the first time you lined up behind Tom Brady, or is he just No. 12 to you?
White: He’s got to be just 12 to you when you’re on the field with him. You better listen to what he says, know what he’s seeing and be able to make the adjustments you need to make in order to go out there and play fast.
SI.com: Did you go from a sense of disappointment to last until the third day on draft weekend all the way to ‘I hit the jackpot’ going to New England?
White: In the end I felt like I landed in a good spot. Wherever I went, I was determined I wasn’t going to take the opportunity lightly. But I’m really glad I’m here.
SI.com: Any superstitions that have worked so far for you during your young NFL career.
White: I don’t have any superstitions other than keeping my mouth shut and trying to get the job done.