For players like former Oklahoma scat back Roy Finch, NFL preseason finales aren’t a meaningless game in which Pro Bowl players appear for only a series or two, if they play at all.
New England’s preseason finale Thursday night against the New York Giants is Finch’s final opportunity to make an impression before coach Bill Belichick and his staff whittle the roster to 53 players before Saturday’s cut deadline.
“I don’t really want to change up anything that I’ve done to get to this point,” Finch said in a telephone interview with The Oklahoman. “I’m just trying to work hard and show them I can contribute. I look at this as my new family.”
Patriots beat writers project Finch will be one of the final cuts but probably will be re-signed to New England’s practice squad on Sunday.
The most important person in the decision-making process could be Patriots special teams coach Scott O’Brien since Finch’s best shot to make the team is as a returner.
The Patriots have an elite punt returner in Julian Edelman, but New England has been subpar on kickoff returns. Heading into Thursday’s preseason finale, Finch has averaged 5.5 yards on two punt returns and 25.0 yards on three kickoff returns.
“In the NFL, special teams can lead to offensive opportunities,” Finch said. “The key on returns is to not try to do too much. You have to let a return set up and then try to make a big play.”
Finch, who spent his sophomore season in high school at Edmond North, has rushed for 52 yards on 10 preseason carries, averaging a team-high 5.2 yards per attempt. He also has five receptions for 55 yards.
“I’ve been involved in the offense here and there,” Finch said. “I know special teams are important, but I want to be part of the offense, too. When I get an opportunity on offense I need to make the most of it.”
Finch went undrafted, and the benefit was he could sign with any team. He credits Kelli Masters, the Edmond-based sports agent who represents Tampa Bay Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and several other NFL players.
“I don’t know how many teams were interested because she really felt the Patriots were a great fit for me,” Finch said. “I trusted her decision. Obviously it’s worked out great because I have a legitimate chance to make this team.”
Finch said he’s grateful he found Masters.
“I was looking at three or four agents when she contacted me,” Finch said. “She came at me from a different angle. She wasn’t the type who just told me things I wanted to hear. She had a plan and she loved The Lord. We connected at that level, which was a big reason I chose her.”
A 5-foot-7, 170-pound dynamo, Finch is best known for his speed and zig-zag, break-your-ankles moves.
At OU, he averaged close to 10 rush attempts a game his first two seasons but had only seven rushing attempts his entire junior season despite playing in all 13 games. As a senior, he rushed for 347 yards on 59 carries.
“Being at OU was one of the most special things I could have ever experienced,” Finch said. “It’s hard to describe how great it is on game day every Saturday playing for the University of Oklahoma, one of the best programs in the country.
“Everyone has hardships. Things don’t always happen the way you want them to, but I had a great time at OU. It also prepared me for this opportunity. I’m grateful it was the type of program that helped you become strong mentally, which is essential to play in the NFL.”