Young Patriots running backs learning from veteran Woodhead

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Young Patriots running backs learning from veteran Woodhead

FOXBORO -- Without Kevin Faulk roaming through the Patriots locker room and in running back meetings at Gillette Stadium, Ivan Fears needed a veteran presence.

He needed someone who was going to show second-year running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, and rookie running back Brandon Bolden, that being a successful player in the NFL is more than just what you do on Sundays.

As the Patriots enter their bye weekend with a 5-3 record midway through the regular season, Fears' young -- and now very successful -- running back group is benefiting from the message of his eldest back: 27-year-old Danny Woodhead.

"Oh, I love to have a veteran around. Woody's my veteran," said the Patriots' running back coach on Thursday. "Ya, he's my veteran. Shoot, he keeps everything going in that room. He keeps the guys in tune and shows them how it's done, and how to be a professional athlete. Ya, that's my big dog right there. He's the boss of the room there."

Woodhead is in just his fourth NFL season. It wasn't too long ago that he was an undrafted fee agent who wasn't even invited to the NFL Combine.

He signed with the New York Jets in 2008 and spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve. In 2009, Woodhead played in 10 games for the Jets, rushing for 64 yards on 15 carries, and making eight catches out of the backfield for 87 yards.

Once he was released by the Jets in September of 2010, the Patriots signed him four days later, just a day before New England's Week 2 game against those same Jets.

Now, Woodhead seems to be a constant option for the Patriots' offense, especially in critical third-down situations. And the 5-foot-8 running back seems to move the chains almost every time you ask yourself, "Why are they giving it to Woodhead on third down again?"

Woodhead's reliability on the field is something for any running back on the Patriots' roster to admire. But his coaches see Woodhead's off-the-field mentality as a major asset to a team with such a young, inexperienced backfield.

"I think it helps to have some senior leadership, a veteran guy," said Fears. "For young guys coming in, this is a different game. This is not the college game, this is a different game. So, it helps to have somebody around. You've got to remember, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were both here with Kevin Faulk and those guys last year, so, they got a chance to learn from those guys about little things about being a professional athlete. I mean, that's what it's all about. How you have to take care of your body, all the things that are important, off the field.

"None of those guys have a problem on the field," added Fears. "They practice, they play hard, but it's the little things they do off the field, that makes them successful, that gives them a chance for longevity in the league. Those are the things that they learn from the veteran guys."

And as Fears so adamantly and pleasantly points out, Woodhead is his "veteran guy".

"They watch him train," said Fears. "You've got to train off the field. You've got to prepare yourself to play. And they watch him study, and figure the importance of all those things. And those are a couple of things they have to figure out.

"These guys, they're used to everybody telling them everything to do. That doesn't happen anymore. They're men now. They're running their own life, you should say. So, they've got to make some decisions on their own, about what they're going to do off the field, in their free time. When they finish with us, at 3:30-4 o'clock in the afternoon, what are they doing? What are they doing? Man, that's the kind of stuff they have to learn from older guys. That's important."

For those who aren't in the Patriots team meetings or on the sidelines, it might be tough to grasp the fact that the seemingly soft-spoken Woodhead is such a leader amongst his peers. But in fact, he nearly defines the "Patriot Way".

Every answer he gives the media is as generic and by-the-book as you can possibly get. And given his history of being a Division II football player that's had to claw his way to the pros, it's clear that Woodhead is as humble as they come. Nothing has been handed to him. He's earned everything he's ever received in this game.

Now, in just his fourth full season in the league, he's giving back to a successful running corp that is clearly following his lead.

"What really opens their eyes is the success he's had on the field," said Fears. "That's what they're looking at. I mean, this guy's successful. He's not just on the bench. He's not watching the game. He's playing the game. They're saying, 'He's doing what I want to do, playing the game. So how's he get it done? That's what I want to do.'"

Tatum easing into new challenge with Celtics

Tatum easing into new challenge with Celtics

BOSTON -- While the newest Boston Celtics were scattered about while at a community service event, 19-year-old Jayson Tatum was sitting in a really comfortable-looking chair, resting. 

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind unlike any he had ever experienced, beginning with the pre-draft process, to workouts, to the draft itself and all the appearances and media engagements that have followed. 

“It’s a lot,” Tatum, grinning, told CSNNE.com. “But I’m taking it one day at a time.”

That steady-as-she-goes approach served him well during his lone season at Duke. 

Keeping an even-keeled approach will bode well for him as he gears up for his first taste of NBA basketball beginning with summer league practice this week in preparation for next week’s summer league action which begins in Salt Lake City. 

Boston’s summer league opener will be July 3 against Philadelphia and the top overall pick Markelle Fultz, at the University of Utah’s Jon M. Huntsman Center.

Tatum, who has not played in a five-on-five game since Duke’s loss to South Carolina in the NCAA tournament, is admittedly excited to get back on the floor this week. 

“I can’t wait,” he said. 

Celtics Nation feels the same way about Tatum, selected with the third overall pick in last week’s NBA draft. 

Although it’s only a preseason game, there will be expectations and with that, possibly some added pressure for Tatum to show he was such a coveted player by the Celtics. 

“That’s why Duke helped me a lot,” he told CSNNE.com. “Duke, the best program in college basketball, we were always on the national spotlight good or bad, whether we were winning or losing. That will help me a lot preparing for the Boston Celtics.”

And like Duke, Tatum will have to fight his way on to the court although he readily admits the challenge is much greater in the NBA. 

“Isaiah Thomas, Jaylen Brown, Jae Crowder . . . we didn’t have those guys at Duke,” Tatum said. “It’s gonna be tough; just try my best and get in where I fit in.”

Tatum said he will at times lean on his more experienced teammates, one of which was a former teammate of his – sort of – in Jaylen Brown. 

“I’ve known Jaylen for a while,” Tatum said. “We played with and against each other in high school at AAU camps. 

Tatum added, “at the AAU camps, sometimes we were on the same team and sometimes we were not.”

While much has been made about how the two are similar, Tatum sees both having strengths that complement, rather than compete, with each other. 

“He’s further along than Jaylen was skill-wise and he’s not as far along as Jaylen physically,” said Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations. “Again, he’s 19 years old. I don’t want to put any expectations … I want to give him time to grow. We’ll see. He’ll definitely have a role, get a chance to play. And how well he performs is up to him.”

Tatum’s assessment of his game and Brown’s goes as follows:

“He’s a lot stronger, bigger than me,” Tatum, who is 6-foot-8, 204 pounds, acknowledged. “He’s much more athletic. Offensively, I think that’s what I excel in, being smooth and my ability to score. I can just learn from him, the things that he went through last year.”

One of the things he has already picked up on, is that Brown is a pretty smart – and at times clever – dude. 

Not long after Tatum picked jersey number 11, Brown, who wears number 7, took to social media and came up with a 7-11 theme that has already lead to some pretty snazzy t-shirt designs. 

“I thought it was funny,” Tatum said. “It’s catchy; I like it.”

And the Celtics really like Tatum’s game which has been compared at times to former Celtic great Paul Pierce. 

“I hate to make those comparisons when kids are 19 and let his game evolve into whatever it is,” Ainge said. “The similarity is they have good footwork. They both have really good ways to create space for shots. But the similarity … they’re both very good defensive rebounders. Those are two things that stand out to me with Jayson that are Paul characteristics.”

Tatum knows he’s a long way from being in the same company as Celtic royalty such as Pierce. 

Before then he must first earn minutes on the floor which will not be an easy task. 

But Tatum’s demeanor, much like his game, has seemingly always been a bit more mature than most of his fellow basketball brethren. 

Tatum credits his parents, Justin Tatum and Brandy Cole.

“They raised me to be different, be more mature and stand out above the crowd and be my own person and be comfortable in my skin,” Tatum said. “That’s how I’ve always been.”

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: How does the Chris Paul trade affect the Celtics?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: How does the Chris Paul trade affect the Celtics?

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0:41 - Tom Curran, Tom Giles, and Kayce Smith discuss the Rockets acquiring Chris Paul and how that trade can actually have an affect on the Celtics plans.

5:06 - Ian Thomsen joins BST to talk about if the Celtics are the front runners for Paul George, what would be too much to give up to the Pacers, and why it’s important to sign Hayward before trading for George.

11:21 - Evan Drellich joins from Fenway Park to discuss Rick Porcello getting his 10th loss of the season and if the struggling offense might be a season-long problem. 

14:58 - Tom Curran and Kayce Smith give their thoughts on Nate Burleson saying that Julian Edelman is the most under-appreciated receiver in the last 10 years.