Updated with how Jeff Demps fared
Jeff Demps went through his first NFL practice Wednesday at One Buc Place in preparation for his debut Friday night. That proved to be a timely tease for Tampa Bay, which had pushed to get him in a Buccaneers jersey.
Instead, he chose to join the Patriots, who held joint practices with the Bucs prior to their preseason game at 7:30 p.m.
However, when it comes to Demps, this game won’t be about the Bucs’ missed opportunity to land him. It’ll be about Demps’ opportunity to impress his new team. He’ll have two games in a five-day span to show New England that he can be a key contributor this season despite this being his first real taste of football since the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2.
The Patriots are clearly optimistic that Demps will do that at some point. Demps got a three-year deal worth $395,000 with $200,000 fully guaranteed. He also received an $11,000 signing bonus, making his total of $211,000 in sure money the second-highest amount given to an undrafted player this season. Most undrafted free agents who sign their first NFL deal after OTAs and minicamp are barely given a chance to make the 53-man roster, let alone a signing bonus.
The reality is, New England wants Demps on the roster beyond opening week, and not just because it feels he can help the team’s 29th-ranked kickoff return game. Demps — who’s been staying late at practice to catch extra passes while working on a side field — has some experience with the Pats’ offensive schemes, and the coaching staff has already taken a peak at how he can help the team’s high-octane attack.
“I threw him in on the one-on-ones going against the blitzes, and he was courageous,” Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears told the Bradenton Herald. “I don’t know about him needing to put on weight. Being heavier might take away from his speed. He is not a weak guy. He was under our system with Charlie Weis at Florida so he has some familiarity with what we do. I am going to let his production do the talking.”
Demps — who also got interest from the Jets and Colts — said Tampa Bay was the other most likely destination, but it wasn’t even close. Although Tim Tebow tried to bring him to New York, another former teammate helped sway him to New England.
“Once I talked to the Patriots, I got the feeling that’s where I wanted to be,” Demps said. “The guys there acted like I was already part of the team. (Former Gator linebacker Brandon) Spikes played a good role. They took me in like they did when I first came to Florida. It came down to them and the Bucs.”
The allure of the Patriots is strong, but it was even stronger for the 5-foot-7, 183-pound Demps. It’s logical for him to believe coach Bill Belichick will put him in a position to succeed given that he’s done that with Danny Woodhead (5-foot-8, 200 pounds), Wes Welker (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) and other non-traditional skill players.
But even before Demps made the decision to join a high-profile team, he attracted plenty of attention in his own right once he made it known he wanted to play in the NFL. Maybe it’s because Demps is the next best thing to satisfy those imagining Usain Bolt with a helmet on.
Or maybe it’s because Demps also has world-class speed. With a track record filled with good football to boot.
DEMPS SEES PLENTY OF ACTION IN DEBUT
The Patriots gave Jeff Demps a good amount of playing time in the second half of Friday’s 30-28 loss to the Buccaneers.
He was put to work on special teams, returning two kickoffs for 44 yards (an average of 22 yards a return) and one punt for 16 yards. However, it was what he managed to do in his few touches on offense that really stood out.
Demps had three carries for 41 yards, the second of which was the key play in a Patriots’ touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. On a 2nd-and-1, Demps took a handoff that was designed to go left, but was forced to change direction to the middle of the field. He burst through a hole and juked safety Sean Baker out his shoes after cutting at full speed, then ran 29 yards before he was forced out at the Tampa Bay 9-yard line.
Demps’ other notable run came on a nine-yard gain off a draw play later in the period.
He was also the target of three passes as the coaching staff used him in a variety of ways out of the backfield. The team called a screen pass for him, sent him on a wheel route down the sideline, and was motioned out into the slot as a receiver on another play that never happened because of a false start.
New England’s last preseason game will be on the road against the Giants this Wednesday.