FOXBOROUGH — For all the fanfare early-round rookies receive joining NFL squads, the undrafted players can end up making a more significant impact than what is generally predicted.
The New England Patriots seem to come up with these types of players every year. Last season, on the offensive side of the ball, an undrafted Kenbrell Thompkins stuck out in training camp and earned the chance to play alongside Tom Brady in the regular season. He ended up catching 32 passes for 432 yards, including a game-winning touchdown pass in the Patriots’ miraculous win over the New Orleans Saints.
This year, the Pats have their fair share of players looking to prove themselves as professionals, and Roy Finch, a 5-8 running back from Oklahoma, is your typical hard-working guy, who is hoping to do enough to avoid being cut, and possibly increase his role on the squad in time.
“You just got to find your way, find your spot on the team, find out what your strengths are,’’ Finch said. “The Patriots are known for playing guys on special teams, so if you can play on special teams, they’ll find a spot for you. And (you can) eventually work your way up.’’
The explosive nature of Finch’s play should draw eyes from Patriots’ coaches. He has been deployed as a punt return man on several occasions, even though he hasn’t had considerable involvement in that aspect of the game.
Nevertheless, Finch feels comfortable back there and knows what’s required to effectually carry out his duty.
“On punt return, I’ve had a little bit of experience, but I’ve finally got the opportunity to come out here and do it,’’ he said. “And I’ve been catching the ball well, trying to get under the ball, and track it. I have to be explosive back there. It’s a position that’s tough to play, an exciting position to play if you do it well.’’
Although he wasn’t consistently used as a punt return man at Oklahoma, Finch’s abilities first came to prominence his sophomore season at running back when he replaced an injured Dominic Whaley to earn All-Big 12 honorable mention, rushing for 605 yards on 111 carries in only seven games.
His junior and senior seasons didn’t provide a clear picture for professional scouts to draw any sure conclusions on his skills set. Despite appearing in all 47 career games for the Sooners, Finch only started 10 games.
“We play everybody like the way we feel they need to be played,’’ Bob Stoops said to The Oklahoman last fall, when questioned about the limited use of Finch. “My assistant coaches make those decisions depending on how they practice and everything else they’ve done through the week.’’
Finch only sees the positives of his time in college, pointing to the fact that his Big 12 experience can guide anyone’s transition to the professional level. And Stoops’ offense, which has leaned toward the passing game with its recent wealth of strong quarterbacks, also utilizes the running attack well.
“Oklahoma’s system is balanced, kind of the same here,’’ he said. “That was college, but that got me prepared for here.’’
But in the end, persistence with the mental facet of the sport could give Finch his shot to play in the fall.
“I have to chip away at the fundamentals, at the technique they’re trying to teach us,’’ he said. “I just have to continue to learn and be a ball player.’’