Pocket rocket Demps could be weapon

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Pocket rocket Demps could be weapon

FOXBORO - If Jeff Demps wasn't heading to London for the Olympics, he probably would have been a fourth or fifth-round pick back in April, an AFC personnel man told me Friday.

But Demps, who has reached agreement with the Patriots according to his agent, went to London, won a silver medal for the 4x100 team (he didn't race in the final; just the qualifying) and is now resuming his football career.

What do we know?

That the University of Florida product he is breathtakingly fast. Perhaps the fastest player to ever enter the NFL at 100 meters. That he set the world junior record in the 100 in 2008 (10.01). That he only returned 21 kickoffs in four years at Florida. That he is short (5-8) and built like the proverbial brick outhouse (180 pounds). That he's a gadget guy at this point.

"He's a little shrimp but he had a ton of production at Florida," an AFC personnel man told me Friday. "He can maybe be a third running back, a specialist. He can maybe be a fourth wide receiver. You don't know. But he's had production and he's ridiculously fast."

If Demps were in the 2012 draft, he would have projected as a "fourth or fifth-round pick" according to my source. Pro Football Weekly, one of my go-to sources on college prospects, said Demps merited late-round consideration despite the track plans. They agreed he graded as a "middle-round pick on talent alone."

The need for a dedicated kickoff returner in a league that's trying its best to make the play obsolete is questionable. And punt returning is an art that Demps has no background in while at Florida. He's also not known for his hands.

So if the Patriots are going to get bang for having Demps around, they'll need to find a way to make him relevant in the offense.

With the return of Josh McDaniels and the offense's revival of the screen pass, that could be the spot we see Demps in first. Get him the ball on the perimeter and see if he can crease the defense. The mere threat of it would be a distraction.

Currently, the Patriots have their third-down back in Danny Woodhead. They have a fleet of receivers and - candidly - Demps wouldn't pick up what the hell the Patriots are doing in two weeks.

He will - if he sticks - have a specific role. And it will be one that extends beyond kickoff returns. He can fire off the edge on punt block. He can be a gunner on punts and kickoff team.

How things proceed will be interesting. If the Patriots want to get him to their practice squad, they'll need to release him at some point and hope nobody else claims him. Although Demps could pass on being claimed to another team's roster and choose the Patriots practice squad, that's a risk. So if the Patriots don't want to take that risk, they'll have to use a roster spot on him at the end of camp.

The Jets, Bucs and Colts all had interest.

Injury report: Amendola out for Ravens game, Bennett questionable

Injury report: Amendola out for Ravens game, Bennett questionable

Wide receiver Danny Amendola was officially listed as out on the injury report for the Patriots' Monday night home game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Amendola injured his ankle on a punt return against the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday. It will be the first game he's missed this season. The Patriots signed veteran wide receiver and kick returner Griff Whalen during the week.

Tight end Martellus Bennett (ankle, shoulder) is among the Pats listed as questionable, along with special teams ace Matt Slater (foot), who missed the Rams game, safety Jordan Richards (knee), linebacker Elandon Roberts (hamstring) and cornerback Eric Rowe (hamstring).

Whalen, part of Colts' infamous fake punt play, settles in with Patriots

Whalen, part of Colts' infamous fake punt play, settles in with Patriots

FOXBORO – Griff Whalen was at the epicenter of one of the stupidest, funniest, most “did that just happen?!” plays in NFL history.

So indescribable it never even really earned a name, it was the fourth-down gadget play the Colts tried to run against the Patriots on Sunday Night Football in the first meeting between the teams after Indy ran to the principal’s office to start Deflategate. 

Whalen was the center on that play (I tried to call it “Fourth-and-Wrong” but it didn’t take) and the millisecond between him snapping the ball and the three players processing that the ball had indeed been snapped is perhaps my favorite moment of the past several seasons. 

Whalen is a Patriot now, brought in this week in the wake of Danny Amendola’s knee injury presumably to fill Amendola’s role as a punt returner and wideout. The Colts released him last January, the Dolphins picked him up and cut him at the end of training camp and the Chargers had him on their roster from mid-September until releasing him last month after eight games, two catches and 22 yards. He returned kickoffs for San Diego but no punts since 2015.

The primary area of need for the Patriots is on punt returns. Rookie Cyrus Jones’ transition to appearing comfortable remains glacially slow. It was Jones’ muff last week that brought on Amendola in relief. When Amendola hurt his ankle on a late-game return, the Patriots were forced to decide between Jones, wideout Julian Edelman (who doesn’t need extra work) and making a move.

Whalen is a move they made.

The slight and baby-faced Whalen indicated he had fielded some punts in practice, saying it went, “Fine.” Punt returns are something he’s done “since I was a kid.”

His first impression of the team was, "A lot of what I expected to see. A lot of detail. A lot of effort in practice. Good coaching all-around. I am excited to be here. I was excited to come into a good team that I’d gone against a few times. Hopefully come in and help out the team with whatever I can.”

I asked Whalen if he saw much of the commentary or creativity last year’s failed play spawned.

“I wasn’t paying too much attention,” he said. “When it’s during the season guys are pretty locked in on what they’re doing inside the building. But I heard more about it later on afterwards.”

Asked if he’d heard anything about the play since being here, Whalen replied, “I haven’t. Kinda was [expecting it].”

The Patriots will be hoping Whalen remains as productive for them on fourth down this year as he was in 2015.