Mike Gillislee off to strong start in hopes to become Pats' goal-line RB

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With his New England Patriots team in full pads for the first time in training camp -- which coach Bill Belichick said is the start of “real training camp” -- Belichick made sure one of the toughest plays in football was on the practice itinerary Saturday.

Ball on the 2-yard line. Running play. Live, with full tackling.

Can the offense punch it in?

Mike Gillislee, who is the top candidate to replace LeGarrette Blount in those situations, made it look easy as he took the top two reps.

“Two yards -- I feel like I have to get that,” Gillislee said afterward. “I just turn my whole mindset around and know that I have to those two yards to get in the end zone.”

On the first snap, it was pure power football as the crunching sound of shoulder pads filled the air.

“Right up the A gap,” Gillislee said. “If I see anything else, I bounce it, but you don’t want to bounce at the 2-yard line. You want to get north and south with the ball.”

It was a punishing run, with Gillislee giving credit to the first-unit offensive line of Nate Solder, left guard Joe Thuney, center David Andrews, right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Marcus Cannon for winning up front.

Soon after, the 215-pound Gillislee returned to the huddle for the second of two reps.

“Outside run, where you follow the fullback [James Develin], and he did a great job of opening up a little seam. I was able to hit it,” Gillislee said of the run to the left side in which he crossed the goal line with relative ease.

After Gillislee’s successful rushes, the Patriots turned to Rex Burkhead for the final two repetitions. Burkhead appeared to be stopped on the first attempt, and it was close on the second.

Gillislee said he’s never been part of a backfield as talented as the Patriots have from top to bottom, with him, James White, Dion Lewis, Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, D.J. Foster and LeShun Daniels Jr. If Saturday’s practice is the true indication, Gillislee is getting the first crack at Blount’s old job as the goal-line back.

He couldn’t have gotten off to a more decisive start.