Rookie Jeff Demps made his much-anticipated debut at Patriots practice on today, as New England and the Buccaneers held the first of two joint practices before their preseason game on Friday night.
The former Florida Gator, wearing No. 42, did not take part in the pre-draft process earlier this year, opting instead to focus solely on track and the chance to run in the London Olympics, where he won a silver medal in the 4×100 relay.
Still winded from putting in extra time running routes and catching passes with Brian Hoyer and a member of the coaching staff, Demps told reporters that the practice was the first time he’d touched a football since Florida’s last game of the season, in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2.
If you’re keeping track, that’s a span of 232 days.
Both Demps and running backs coach Ivan Fears said getting back into football shape will be one of the biggest challenges for the 22-year old as he transitions from the track back to the field.
He reportedly lost 15 pounds during Olympics training; on Wednesday, Demps said he’s 183 pounds, five pounds under his usual playing weight; his biography on the Florida website for his senior year lists the 5-foot-7 Demps’ weight as 191.
With training camps now closed to the public, media are also restricted on how long they can watch practice; on Wednesday, it was 30 minutes. In that time, reporters saw Demps work with the kickoff returners, receiver, backs and tight ends as he caught warm-up passes from the quarterbacks, and with the running backs and Fears on the sled.
It wasn’t flawless, however: a bouncing kickoff went through his hands as he bent to retrieve it, and the first pass thrown his way in warm-ups also went through his hands.
While Patriots fans are excited about Demps’ arrival and Fears’ first impression of him as a young man is positive, silver medal or not, he’ll have to earn everything with his new coach.
“I’m not going to go overboard. What he’s done has been truly amazing and a great story, but out here, I ain’t giving him nothing!,” Fears said, mostly serious. “He’s going to earn everything he gets from us. No matter how I feel about him, unless he does it on the field, he’s not getting everything else.”
Having already had his Olympics experience, Demps has at least a couple of lessons he brings with him to his new job:
“To be a technician at everything you do. You’re a professional now, so you have to make sure everything’s perfect,” he said. “Can’t slack off.”