Countdown to Camp: Running Backs
|07.23.09 at 9:29 pm ET|
With training camp looming at the end of the month, WEEI.com will look at the 2009 Patriots in a daily position-by-position breakdown we’re calling “Countdown to Camp.” In today’s installment, we take a look at New England’s running backs.
CURRENTLY ON THE ROSTER: Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Fred Taylor, Eric Kettani.
A LOOK BACK: When Tom Brady and Maroney went down early in the year and Morris coming off a nasty injury of his own, it looked like it was going to be a tough year for the New England running game. But Morris, Faulk, Green-Ellis and Lamont Jordan all rose to the occasion, helping take the pressure off Matt Cassel and the passing game and keeping opposing defenses on their toes.
As a team, the 2008 Patriots finished with 2,278 rushing yards, more than any New England team since the 1985 team had 2,331. Morris led the team with 727 rushing yards and seven TDs, while Faulk added 507 yards on the ground. In addition, Jordan had 363 rushing yards, Green-Ellis had 275 and Cassel added 270. (With Jacksonville, Taylor had 143 carries for 556 yards.)
Overall, the New England running game was one of the best in the AFC last season. The Patriots finished with 513 rushing attempts, 2,278 rushing yards and 142.4 rushing yards per game (all second in the conference) to go along with 4.4 yards per carry (fourth in the AFC).
A LOOK AHEAD: Man, this will be interesting: Jordan and fullback Heath Evans left in free agency, but it’s still a crowded backfield. The Patriots will have to work to try and find a balance between Morris, Maroney and Taylor, three traditional between-the-tackles runners. If Maroney shows signs he isn’t over his shoulder issues, the Patriots won’t hesitate to turn to Morris or Taylor.
Faulk remains one of the best third-down backs in the league, a changeup presence who excels in pass-catching (his 58 catches in 2008 were third on the team) and blitz pickup. And the future of Green-Ellis may still depend on how many tight ends the Patriots decide to carry.
“Everyone is looking good. I think everyone is excited,” Morris said of his fellow running backs, most of whom spent the offseason working out together. “We have a good mix of veteran guys — me and Kevin are hitting our 10th and 11th years — and Lawrence going into his fourth year, and even Benny coming into his second year is working as hard as can be. I think we have a good group. [And Fred is] going into his 12th year, so we know he’s going to do what he’s got to do. I think we have a good group.”
Kettani is a Navy grad who is more of a traditional fullback — with the departure of Evans via free agency, the 6-foot-1, 243-pound rookie appears to have an outside shot at making the roster. Russ Hochstein has taken some snaps at fullback the last few seasons — particularly in short-yardage and goal-line situations — and could see time there again this season.
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