By: Steve Balestrieri
Roy Finch has the opportunity to make the 53 man roster via the return game. (@fskott photo, used by permission)
It is easy to pick Patriots running back out of the crowd. At only 5’7 and 167 pounds, Ray Finch’s small stature borders on the diminutive but he’s hoping to not only catch on with the Patriots but make a mark for himself on special teams.
Finch, an UDFA from Oklahoma is a dark horse to make the roster at this point behind fellow backs Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and James White as the fourth running back. Incumbent Brandon Bolden has excelled as a core special teams player as well as an effective pass blocker. White has looked outstanding thus far in both the running game and coming out of the backfield as a pass receiver.
So for Finch to make the roster, he’ll have to show some promise in the return game. And thus far he’s doing that. During training camp sessions on Saturday, Finch and Danny Amendola shared return duties as punt returners as the Patriots look to perhaps lighten the load on WR Julian Edelman after a 105 catch season in 2013.
On Sunday, Finch was returning kickoffs, something he was good at while in college at Oklahoma. Finch returned 19 kickoffs for a 25.6 yard average in 2013 as a senior after averaging 31 yards per attempt as a junior.
Not since Ellis Hobbs in 2008 have the Patriots had a legitimate threat in the kick return game and it is something they’ve been searching for. Last season they hoped Leon Washington was going to fill the bill but he was released and the kick return game floundered. Edelman has always excelled in the punt return game but having someone ease his load would be a boon for the team.
His speed, a timed 4.44 in the 40, isn’t necessarily his biggest asset as in straight line speed. It is his lateral ability and a talent for shiftiness and quickness in changing direction that may spring him in the open field.
“You have to find your way, find your spot on the team and what you’re good at and what your strengths are,” Finch told the media this weekend. “The Patriots are known for playing guys on special teams and if you can play special teams they’ll find a spot for you. And eventually you can work your way up the food chain, so to speak, to the offense.”
Finch knows he’ll have to make his bones in the return game and then he may possibly be able to get some touches with the offense. Playing with the backups on Sunday, he took a swing pass from quarterback Jimmy Garappolo and was able to make a nice play showing his open field quickness.
Nick Caserio said in his presser yesterday, “In Roy, it’s his ability to move laterally. He was good with the ball in his hands. They played a lot of running backs at Oklahoma and when he got touches he was able to make some plays in space.”
After watching Finch in mini-camp in June we wrote that he’d be an immediate crowd favorite and after seeing his speed and quickness in the return game, he’s catching on with Patriots fans. But will it be enough to unseat Bolden?
It is still early but for now even with an uneven start, Bolden has the advantage. He’s had trouble holding onto the ball early in camp, but we’re only through the first four days. Bolden is a proven NFL talent that has stepped up in both the running and passing games when called upon as an emergency backup. He’s a core special teamer and his pass blocking skills are far better than those of Finch.
Finch’s problems in that area aren’t one of strength, he bench pressed 225 pounds 22 times at his pro day. But the shortness of his arms is a detriment in the pass blocking department. He struggled with it in college and in the pros; it is an entirely different animal.
Finch is one of those intriguing prospects who always seem to find a way to make the Patriots roster out of training camp. And if he does, it will be through special teams and fans will get a chance to see him show his stuff for real. In the event you make it down to training camp, you’ll see for yourself, he can really move. The biggest running back of 2013, LaGarrette Blount, has left in free agency and the team has given his #29 to the smallest of 2014, Finch. Smallest but perhaps not the least, stay tuned.
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