In something of a surprise, on Friday the Patriots landed Olympic silver medalist Jeff Demps, the former University of Florida running back who spent the last eight months training for London while foregoing the Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine and the various other pre-draft workouts. But Demps, who was an alternate on the United States' 4x100 relay team, is back on this side of the Atlantic and ready to get on with his football career.
The speedster rushed for 2,470 yards and 23 touchdowns at Florida and could fill the much-needed returner role in New England. In addition to Demps' 5.8 yards-per-carry average his senior season in college, he also returned 10 kickoffs for 250 yards, and that includes a 99-yard touchdown.
The Patriots edged out the Buccaneers for Demps' services in part because New England had shown interest early on, even after Demps announced that he was focusing his immediate efforts on the Olympics, which explains why he went undrafted. ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss has more details:
"When it initially appeared Demps wouldn’t be going to the Olympics, the Patriots had arranged a trip for him to come to New England for a workout," Reiss wrote Sunday. "They were the most aggressive of any team in the NFL at the time. But on the day Demps was supposed to travel to New England, he learned that an injury to Mike Rodgers opened a spot for him on the U.S. Olympic team. The Patriots had to eat the plane ticket, but Demps essentially showed the team loyalty by giving it the first opportunity to sign him upon his return from London."
Whatever the particulars, Demps is now a member of the Patriots and he'll have an opportunity to make the roster, especially in light of coach Bill Belichick's recent admission that the return game hasn't been up to his standards. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio offered this assessment of Demps, return man, during a Friday news conference: "He had a little bit of production. How that translates over, the schemes are different. 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 him to do.”
In addition to the Pats and Bucs, the Jets were also in the running to sign Demps. In fact, former teammate Tim Tebow tried to recruit Demps and had only laudatory things to say about him last week.
“Jeff is a great guy and a great player, and he is someone that I was proud to play with in college,” he said via the Boston Globe.
“He did a great job for us in college. I talk to him as a friend, but the Jets [are] a great organization and a great place. Would we love to have him? Absolutely. I would as a teammate, just because I know how hard he works and what he could bring to the table.”
Demps won't play against the Eagles in Monday's preseason game but we should see him next week. New England could ease him into the offense through the return game where learning the playbook basically consists of "catch ball, head for end zone."