FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It isn’t often that a practice squad player faces a full-blown media crush on his first day on the job, but that’s the way it unfolded Tuesday for running back Bishop Sankey with the New England Patriots.
Part of that is a reflection of the intense, thorough coverage from one of the league’s largest media corps. But probably more than that is that Sankey isn’t the typical practice squad player, having entered the NFL in 2014 as a second-round draft choice with the Tennessee Titans, and also that the Patriots could use a boost at the position with Dion Lewis opening the season on the reserve/physically unable to perform list.
Photo: Practice squad RB Bishop Sankey said four teams had reached out expressing interest but he felt NE best fit. pic.twitter.com/TQ7e3UUlzw— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 6, 2016
The 5-foot-10, 209-pound Sankey said four other clubs expressed interest in signing him, but he chose New England because he believed it was the best fit for him. The team’s success with “passing backs,” from Kevin Faulk, to Danny Woodhead, and most recently Lewis was part of his thinking. Reflecting on a private workout with the Patriots prior to the 2014 draft was also on his mind.
“I know they have a great pedigree of backs here, guys that have been able to catch out of the backfield as well as run. I’m excited to be a part of that,” Sankey said before taking part in his first practice, in which he wore No. 25. “I’m on scout team right now, but it’s something where I’m working to prove myself at practice each day.”
Sankey fell out of favor in Tennessee, which traded for DeMarco Murray in the offseason and drafted Derrick Henry in the second round. Third-year pro Antonio Andrews beat him out for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart as the Titans are under a new regime with first-year general manager Jon Robinson and head coach Mike Mularkey.
In two seasons with the Titans, Sankey played in 29 games (12 starts) and totaled 199 carries for 762 yards (3.8 average) and three touchdowns. He added 32 catches for 272 yards and a touchdown.
In training camp, Mularkey was pleased with Sankey as a rusher but looked for him to improve in pass protection, which will be a vital part of his responsibilities in New England. Sankey also noted that he was purposely up eight pounds this year, to roughly 216 pounds.
A best-case scenario for Sankey and the Patriots would be if the team’s offensive attack brings out the talent that led the Titans to draft Sankey No. 54 overall in 2014. For example, Sankey’s 6.75 time in the three-cone drill led all running backs at the 2014 NFL combine, which reflects his agility and change-of-direction capabilities. He was also viewed as one of the better pass-catching running backs in the NFL draft, playing in a pro-style offense at the University of Washington.
As it stands now, the Patriots have LeGarrette Blount as their top power back, with third-year pro James White the No. 1 passing back, and undrafted rookie D.J. Foster backing him up. Brandon Bolden adds a fourth layer to the depth chart, with his primary contributions coming on special teams.
Although not on the 53-man roster, Sankey provides important depth with Lewis on the PUP list, and potentially more.
“It’s definitely urgent. I’m taking that upon myself, to improve every day and pick up the system, make plays at practice, and the rest will take care of itself,” he said.