FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots running back Jonas Gray said he wanted to lose weight this offseason and prove that he could run away from defenders in the open field. In Thursday night's 22-11 preseason-opening loss to the Green Bay Packers, he got an early return on his offseason investment.
Gray's 55-yard touchdown run was a highlight play.
"One thing I wanted to do [this offseason], and coaches stressed to me, was being able to beat guys in the open field and taking those 10-yard runs and making them 20-yard runs; making the first guy miss," he said late Thursday night.
Gray, capitalizing on a poor run fit by the Packers defense, did just that early in the second quarter on the touchdown run.
Last year, it's possible that Packers linebacker Adrian Hubbard or cornerback Sam Shields would have caught him down the field. This year, through a combination of diet and conditioning that helped him to lose 3-5 pounds, the 5-foot-10, 225-pound Gray feels more equipped to finish those runs like the did.
"The maturation of a player," he explained. "[It's] being a veteran, taking my experience from last year and being better this year."
As for the run itself, it came out of a power personnel grouping with Gray aligned in the I-formation behind fullback James Develin, and tight ends Jordan Devey (tackle eligible) and Michael Hoomanawanui on each side of the line, with receiver Josh Boyce split to the left.
Gray said it was "blocked well up front and [the Packers] had a lot of guys in the box, so I was able to pass by the second level and the rest was just using my speed." He said it's always easy to follow the hard-nosed Develin, who crunched defensive back Micah Hyde to the outside to help open a wide hole off the right side of the line.
"It's funny because after every long run that I have, or every good run, I always see him first," Gray said of Develin. "It's nice to have a guy like that with you."
While rookie guard Shaq Mason pulled from left to right to create some open space for Gray, the Packers' poor run fit might have been enough for Gray to race away anyway. As Bill Belichick pointed out after the game, Mason pulled and sealed but there was really no one for him to block (he grazed linebacker Sam Barrington).
"There was no run force," Belichick said. "I don't think Jonas got touched."
He didn't, which was partly a result of poor Packers play, and partly a result of the work Gray put in this offseason to finish those long runs.
Gray wasn't about to give it back.
"I'll take it," he cracked. "Any day."