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Mike Gillislee excited to bring physicality to Patriots' backfield

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Things came down to the wire for Mike Gillislee.

A month had passed since the start of free agency on March 9, and the restricted free-agent running back was fielding zero calls before the New England Patriots reached out, roughly a week before the April 21 deadline to sign the low tender offer the Buffalo Bills had placed on him.

Speaking to the media Tuesday morning at Gillette Stadium, Gillislee recalled being “surprised” at the sudden interest from his AFC East rival. And while he admitted “waiting it all out was the hardest part” in the days following the Patriots’ two-year, $6.4 million offer sheet, he said he didn’t have many emotions as the Bills contemplated whether they’d match or not.

“I was just worried about what the next step in my journey was, and it ended up being here,” he said.

And now that he’s here, he’s ready to embrace the competition for carries in what should once again be a loaded backfield with Dion Lewis, James White, D.J. Foster and Rex Burkhead.

“Pretty much if you look at my history, everywhere I went, there was always competition. I’m used to it,” Gillislee said. “I look forward to competing with these guys here.”

A look at the stat sheet from his 2016 campaign suggests the 5-foot-11, 219-pound Gillislee is a bit of a thumper compared to his fleet-footed counterparts. Complementing LeSean McCoy’s quick, elusive style with some boom in his breakout 2016 campaign with Buffalo, Gillislee led the NFL in yards per rush (5.71) and rushes per TD (12.63), and ranked second in yards before first contact per rush (3.89), bested only by McCoy.

He also ranked in the top 15 in yards after first contact per rush (1.82) and top 25 in first-down rushes (39). Seven of his eight TD runs were of five or fewer yards, the lone rush falling outside of that category a 44-yard garbage-time scamper in the Bills’ Week 6 blowout of the San Francisco 49ers.

With LeGarrette Blount still a free agent, it’s natural to wonder if he is a replacement for the 6-foot, 250-pound bruiser, but Gillislee -- while acknowledging Blount is “one of my favorite running backs” -- didn’t see a comparison.

“His physicality, and what he brings to the table, is something that I bring to the table,” Gillislee said. “But I wouldn’t compare myself to him. We’re just here to just better this football team and continue winning games.”

Oddly enough, with the well-documented friendship between Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and three-time collegiate national champion coach Urban Meyer, and the pipeline between their dominant programs, Gillislee said he never heard from New England when he first entered the draft out of the University of Florida.

And yet, asked of his first impressions in his new digs in Foxborough, he couldn’t help but make comparisons to the culture he experienced under Meyer back in his first few years in Gainesville before the coach left to take over at Ohio State.

“It’s nothing I’m not used to. I came from the University of Florida, and the expectations were the same,” Gillislee said, a declaration he repeated several times throughout his presser.