Updated with the Giants cutting Justin Trattou, but reportedly signing Marcus Thomas.
Brandon Spikes, Aaron Hernandez, Jermaine Cunningham, Jabar Gaffney, Gerard Warren and now Jeff Demps.
The former Gator running back, who told NFL teams he’d be focusing on a full-time track career before April’s draft, will join those five UF alums in New England after signing with the Patriots on Friday.
Demps flew home to Orlando to meet with his representatives and go over the details of the deal before the agreement was confirmed on the team’s official website, but the terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Demps’ decision to join the perennial Super Bowl contenders comes despite another Gator teammate, Tim Tebow, attempting to recruit him to the New York Jets. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also made a strong push to acquire him.
In New England, there’s a strong chance that Demps will be more than just an upgrade to the Patriots’ poor kick return game. First of all, the stock on kick-return specialists in the NFL is plummeting since the kickoff moved up to the 35-yard line and touchbacks became more frequent. Secondly, New England is known for valuing versatility both on offense and defense.
The Patriots hosted Demps for a workout Thursday and, aside from the fact that coach Bill Belichick has kept an eye on the players recruited by former Florida coach and friend Urban Meyer, his speed, hands and experience at multiple positions impressed the team enough to bring him on board.
“Good with the ball, good speed, caught the ball OK, a little bit undersized, but they had some good offensive players,” said Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio. “He and (running back Chris) Rainey split some time, so they kind of used them some different ways. Florida has had a track record of some pretty good football players that have come out of there, but any time we go into a school, we’ll look at everybody, regardless of whatever the circumstance is.”
New England has a talented group of running backs in Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead, Brandon Bolden and Eric Kettani. However, Belichick has traditionally favored utilizing many backs with different skill sets and abilities. Demps certainly brings one to the table that none on the roster have, and that’s raw speed.
Thus, there’s a possibility that the 5-foot-7, 191-pound Demps could use his pass-catching ability to develop into a more dangerous version of fellow miniature back Woodhead (5-foot-8, 200 pounds). At Florida, Demps caught 57 passes for 481 yards (8.3 avg.), and reeled in 16 for a career-high 172 yards as a senior. However, his ability to go the distance can add a new wrinkle to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ already-stacked Patriots offense.
New England currently has five running backs on its roster after leading rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis and veteran Kevin Faulk departed in the offseason. Whether the Patriots decide to keep five like they did last year is still unclear.
At the very least, Demps will get an opportunity to immediately make an impact on special teams. New England ranked 29th in the NFL on kickoff returns (21.4 yards per return) and 16th on punt returns (8.9).
“He had a little bit of production, so how that translates over, the schemes are different, so any returner that comes into the NFL, whatever they did in college, schematically, is probably going to be a lot different than what we’re going to ask them to do,” Caserio said.
The Olympics may be over, but it turns out Demps isn’t done being a patriot.
GIANTS CUT TRATTOU, BUT SIGN THOMAS
On Thursday, the New York Giants announced that defensive end Justin Trattou has been waived. Trattou, who appeared in six games for the team last season, suffered ankle and heel injuries early in training camp.
On Friday, it was reported that the Giants will sign defensive tackle Marcus Thomas to a one-year deal. The news came from someone informed of the progress of the free agent’s visit on Thursday morning after Thomas had a very good workout and impressed the team during his meetings. The source, who requested anonymity because the deal isn’t done yet, said Thomas will be a Giant as long as he passes a physical.
The 6-foot-3, 316-pound Thomas, a fourth-round pick of the Denver Broncos in 2007, was aiming for a big contract in free agency this offseason after starting 11 games last season. The Broncos only offered him a one-year deal, and Thomas turned it down.