By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Patriots fans caught a small glimpse of J.J. Taylor last season. This year, that figures to change.READ MORE: COVID Booster Shots - Who Can Get It And Who Has To Wait
The undersized and elusive running back made the initial 53-man roster, surviving the end-of-summer cutdown day for the second straight season.
Yet while he played a very small role on last year’s team — he ran the ball 23 times and caught one pass, while returning four kicks and one punt — he’s made some significant improvements that will allow him to be on the field a whole lot more in 2021.
Longtime Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears couldn’t hide his excitement when asked about the second-year back on Wednesday morning.
“As a runner? As a runner, this son-of-a-gun, I’ll tell you what: He’s gonna cause some people some problems,” Fears said. “He’s little as [heck], and people kind of find it hard to find his butt. When he goes to the line, they can’t find him. So that makes it exciting for him, he gets some plays that [other] guys don’t get, because of his size. But he’s strong, he makes people miss, he’s explosive, he’s got great vision. The kid’s got some stuff going on. I’m kind of happy to have him around. I hope we have a chance to make something happen.”
Fears added a promise: “I think you’re gonna like this kid when he’s out there on the field.”
Fears, who’s generally been the most brutally honest coach on the Patriots staff, shared the specific work Taylor has done to earn the trust and support of the offensive coaching staff.READ MORE: Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill To Add Gender 'X' Option On Birth Certificates, Drivers Licenses
“The thing that sort of held him back is what he did in the passing game was a little bit limited in what we needed him to do. And he’s picked that up big time. He’s picked that up big time,” Fears said. “He’s made some great strides in the passing game, he’s a hell of a lot more productive as a route runner — whether we can catch him or coming out of the backfield. And the kid is just, he stepped up, he stepped up and figured out that he’s got to learn what we do. And he still makes some crazy ass mistakes, but for the most part, he’s doing a hell of a job for us. He really is.”
Fans saw a bit of Taylor’s productivity in the passing game on Sunday night, when he decleated Leonard Williams on the edge for making a catch for a gain of eight yards.
J.J. Taylor (5-6, 185) just laid out Leonard Williams (6-5, 291) pic.twitter.com/OaR0ekuSZC
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) August 29, 2021
Fears laughed that he occasionally still has to ask Taylor, “What in the world were you THINKING, son?” He said some of those moments popped up against the Giants, when Taylor rushed for 76 yards on nine carries. But overall, Fears — who’s entering his 46th season as a coach, 31st season as an NFL coach, and 25th season as a Patriots coach — is excited to see what year two brings for the 5-foot-6, undrafted back out of Arizona.MORE NEWS: Costco Limiting How Much Toilet Paper, Paper Towels And Cleaning Supplies You Can Buy Again
“He still has those moments, but I have to admit J.J. has come a long way. A long way,” Fears said. “I mean, last year we wouldn’t have thrown him into the passing game to save his ass. But right now, yeah he stepped up and he’s made it kind of interesting for us.”