FOXBOROUGH — R unning back and kickoff returner Jeff Demps signed a contract with the Patriots Friday. Terms of the deal were not released.
Demps, who went undrafted in April after telling teams he intended to pursue a career in track, drew interest from several teams once he returned from the London Olympics, where he was part of the United States’ silver medal-winning 4 x 100-meter relay team.
Tampa television station Fox 13 originally reported Demps’s decision to sign with New England.
Director of player personnel Nick Caserio said the Patriots kept an eye on the 22-year-old Demps throughout the draft process.
Demps averaged 5.8 yards per carry as a senior at the University of Florida and returned 10 kickoffs for 250 yards, including a 99-yard touchdown.
At just 5 feet 8 inches, Demps is undersized, but his speed makes him a threat. He was listed at 191 pounds as a senior, but lost 15 to compete in the Olympics.
“Every school that we go into, we have our list of players, players that are going to be eligible for the draft, and we evaluate those players,” Caserio said. “[He’s] good with the ball, good speed, caught the ball OK, a little bit undersized.
“But they had some good offensive players. He and [Chris] Rainey split some time, so they kind of used them some different ways. But Florida’s had a track record of some pretty good football players to come out of there. But any time we go to a school, we’ll look at everybody, regardless of the circumstances.”
Coach Bill Belichick had said as recently as Thursday that kickoff returns weren’t up to his standards, but in the past he hadn’t made roster moves to address it. Signing Demps may be a signal that he is willing to devote a roster spot to a player to fill that role exclusively.
“He had a little bit of production,” Caserio said of Demps’s returns in college. “So how that translates over — the schemes are different for 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.”
Demps got a ringing endorsement earlier this week from former teammate Tim Tebow when the Jets were also in the hunt for him.
Now, the two are on rival teams in the AFC East.
“Jeff is a great guy and a great player, and he is someone that I was proud to play with in college,” Tebow said at the time.
“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.”
Stevan Ridley and Jabar Gaffney were both in shorts for the last public practice of training camp. Tavon Wilson was out. Sebastian Vollmer ran with the rehab unit . . . Caserio joked that there’s a reason he no longer participates in the “bucket drill” with the quarterbacks. “I had a bad experience with the bucket drill a few years ago,” he said. “Mr. [Robert] Kraft was walking on to the field and I almost laced him. So, I’ve stayed away from the bucket drill for a few years now.” . . . Called on to perform an annual ritual for first-round picks, Chandler Jones came up big. The task for the defensive end was to catch a punt booted by Zoltan Mesko. If he did, there was a reward for the team. If he didn’t, “it definitely would have been a longer day,” said defensive back Kyle Arrington. The catch wasn’t as pretty as Jones’s celebration “Dougie” dance, but it did the trick. “I’m glad he caught it,” Arrington said. “I owe him dinner.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com. Greg A. Bedard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GregABedard.