D.J. Foster in the competition as a replacement for Julian Edelman
FOXBORO — The void left by Julian Edelman’s knee injury quickly has become the biggest issue facing the Patriots offense as the regular season opener looms a week from Thursday.
The answer will be an ongoing process that might not sort itself out right away. The task facing coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is to assess their options at the skill positions.
One is to put running back D.J. Foster on the 53-man roster. That’s not a lock, but with Foster’s versatility and the way he’s produced in three preseason games, he’s made a strong case for himself.
There are several key factors that play into Foster’s fate. For one, he’s primarily worked with backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo during the preseason, and the fact that most of his success has come against backups has to be taken into account. Also, the Pats running backs room, with Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis and Brandon Bolden, is quite crowded.
However, Foster is a legitimate threat to catch the ball and line up in the slot, a skill set that’s more valuable with Edelman out.
“D.J. is a good football player,” White said. “He probably can play receiver if we really need him to. He can catch, block, run. He’s gotten a lot better (since his rookie season in 2016). He’s a lot more confident now. He’s really out there flying around, making plays.”
That remark about Foster possibly playing receiver could earn him one of the last roster spots. Foster has nine receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown in three preseason games. He has run the ball well, too, but the short passing game — a critical are directly affected by Edelman’s loss — could really use some support.
Yesterday, Foster spoke about his recent play.
“You have limited opportunities to go out and make the most of it,” he said. “Every rep, every game, every opportunity is important for someone trying to make the team and really everybody out there getting an opportunity to compete.”
Foster’s competition might be rookie wide receiver Austin Carr, who also has impressed. Foster is less likely to clear waivers if he is cut, which might factor into Belichick’s decision, too. Carr, who burst on the scene with a strong performance in the opening preseason game against Jacksonville, has caught 11 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. Like Foster, he’s primarily worked with Garoppolo.
Carr, unlike Foster, is strictly a receiver and might be a more natural short- and long-term option.
But, as Belichick said when asked about Carr yesterday, tomorrow night’s preseason finale against the New York Giants can make or break for any player on the bubble.
“Austin’s done a good job for us,” Belichick said. “He’s been durable. He’s been out there every day. He’s worked hard to get better. (There’s) still a lot of things he can improve on, like a lot of other guys on the team, but (he’s) making progress. Clock’s ticking. It will come down to the wire.
“But, you know, he’s battled, he’s competed, he’s been out there every day.”
As the Giants game approaches, Foster is doing his best to keep his routine the same and not let Saturday’s 4 p.m. cut deadline for the 53-man roster be a distraction.
“Just trying to do everything I can as a football player, wherever the coaches call on me,” Foster said. “Whether that’s at receiver, running back or in special teams, just whatever. Whenever my number’s called, try to do my job the best I can.”