Bills fifth-round pick Johnny White is entering an offensive backfield where roles appear to be pretty well defined with respect to Fred Jackson, Corey McIntyre and C.J. Spiller. Coming into a situation where carries might be hard to come by won't be anything new for a rookie back that's been willing to serve in any capacity so long as it gets him on the field.
White really didn't get an opportunity to be the feature back at North Carolina until his senior season. Yet Bills offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins, a former college back himself, saw traits in White's game that he believes will serve the rookie well in the NFL.
"Just watching him on film I thought he had a very natural feel as a runner," Modkins told Buffalobills.com. "He did things instinctively. When you're a runner there are some things that you can't teach and Johnny did those things. When I found out that he hadn't played running back his entire college career I was even more impressed with him."
The North Carolina product was a bit of a sleeper in the NFL draft because his abilities as a rusher were somewhat clouded by his versatility. The Bills plan to exploit White's versatility as well, but it hasn't kept them from recognizing how he may also be able to help their offense.
You have a guy in him that has been kind of a jack-of-all-trades," said Modkins. "He was probably one of the better athletes on North Carolina's squad and when you're one of the better athletes you get put in a lot of different roles. He was asked to do a lot of different things, but when they settled on him at running back I think he really found a home."
Perhaps what's most impressive about White's game is his ability to gain yards after initial contact. In the ACC it was very rare to see the first tackler bring him to the ground. Modkins chalked that up to White's consistently low pad level, which he believes comes naturally to the rookie and allows him to maintain his momentum and balance.
"The reason you it's evident is because he hasn't had a ton of carries where he can perfect that part of his game," Modkins said. "So the things he does seem to come naturally to him."
White is by no means a burner. He's more of a downhill, hit the hole type back that will carry defenders an extra few yards. As Modkins sees it that trait is extremely valuable in a league where first downs are just as valuable as touchdowns.
"This league is not built on speed, run away type guys at that position," said Modkins. "Sure you'd like to have one that can break away, but for the most part you want the good four or five-yard runners and then every now and then you have a guy like C.J. (Spiller) that has that extra gear."
Modkins looks forward to the time when he can get White on the practice field and get a good handle on his mental retention of the scheme as well as his ability to think on the fly knowing the NFL game is significantly faster. In the end Buffalo's offensive coordinator believes there will be a role for White.
"He's going to have to learn the system," said Modkins. "The disadvantage is the situation we're in. It's not as conducive as it has been in the past for rookies. But in this league you need more than two backs to get through a season. My goal is whenever they say start that we can get him caught up to speed as quickly as possible because he's going to contribute on special teams and we're going to expect him to be ready to go offensively as well."