By Chris Boyle
GateHouse Media Services
DELAND — When he attended DeLand High School, Mike Gillislee earned the nickname “Mike Sco,” which he loosely attributes to his ability to score touchdowns. For the first three quarters of the 2017 NFL season, Gillislee’s first with the New England Patriots, it looked like he was going to do a whole lot of scoring.
He found the end zone three times in the opening game against Kansas City, but as the season wore on, Gillislee rarely saw the field again. Even before his dazzling debut, Gillislee said he never felt like himself last fall.
“I don’t believe in excuses at all,” Gillislee said. “This year, I’m healthy and ready to go. I put last year in the past. It didn’t go as I planned, and that wasn’t me at all.”
The former University of Florida standout, who hosted a free camp for more than 200 kids at Spec Martin Stadium on Saturday afternoon, may need to show up in a big way when veterans report to Patriots training camp on July 25 just to crack the 53-man roster.
After leading the league in yards per carry in 2016 and signing a two-year deal worth $6.4 million to leave the Buffalo Bills, Gillislee appeared in only one of New England’s final 11 games, sustaining a sprained MCL in Week 16. He was shut down for the Patriots’ postseason run, which ended with an eventual loss to Philadelphia in the Super Bowl.
Gillislee said he was dealing with hamstring injuries as far back as April 2017, his first trip to the Patriots facility in Foxborough, Mass. In total, he ran the ball 104 times for 383 yards — an average of 3.7 per carry — and five touchdowns, the last of which came in the Week 16 win over Buffalo.
“I missed camp and (the coaches) kind of just had to plug me in,” Gillislee said. “It’s one of those things where I never really got to show the coaches what I can do coming from a different team. Now I’ve got a year under my belt and I was there throughout all the workouts this offseason. I look to return this year.”
He’ll have plenty of competition, given the state of the Patriots’ roster and the revolving-door mentality the team has traditionally employed with its ball-carriers.
Since the end of the season, New England signed former Cincinnati Bengals starter Jeremy Hill and spent a first-round draft pick on Georgia’s Sony Michel, adding to a backfield which already included Gillislee, Rex Burkhead and James White.
Gillislee has been in this position, presumably battling for one of the final roster spots, before. In 2015, he was released by the Miami Dolphins before later landing in Buffalo and rejuvenating his career.
Knowing he’ll likely need to beat out Hill for the last spot in the running back room, Gillislee has added muscle, tipping the scale at 216 pounds in OTAs, and worked on his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
“I know my worth,” Gillislee said. “I know what I’m capable of doing. Last year wasn’t me.”
Chris Boyle is a sports writer for the Daytona Beach News-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org