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Rookie running back Shane Vereen sounds close to returning for Patriots

08.25.11 at 2:18 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Running back Shane Vereen has stood by and watched his fellow rookie Stevan Ridley make his case to be a serious part of the New England running game this fall. Now, he wants his shot.

Vereen has been slowed by a bad hamstring since early in camp, and hasn’t played in either preseason game. Meanwhile, Ridley had a combined 111 yards from scrimmage last week against Tampa Bay (84 rushing yards, 27 receiving yards) and 64 yards rushing, seven catches for 47 yards and three touchdowns the week before against Jacksonville.

But the Cal product appears to be making strides. He returned to practice on a regular basis this week — his appearance at Wednesday’s practice was his first since Aug. 3. He was in pads with his teammates on Wednesday, and in shorts and shells with the rest of the squad on Thursday. That would seem to indicate that he’s closer to playing at this point than any previous time in the preseason.

“Not sure about Saturday,” he said when asked whether or not he could go this weekend in Detroit against the Lions. “It’s more of a coaches and trainers decision. So we’ll see.

“I’m getting there. I’m getting close. I’ve been working real hard, training and everything like that. Getting ready to go.”

The 5-foot-10, 204-pound rookie — a second-round pick of the Patriots — finished his college career ranked among the school’s all-time leaders in rushing touchdowns (29, tied for third), total touchdowns (35, tied for fourth), all-purpose yards (4,069, fifth), rushing yards (2,834, seventh), 100-yard rushing games (11, seventh) and scoring (210, tied for ninth).

But without spring practices, each one of the rookies have started the season behind the proverbial 8-ball. Usually, they would have OTAs and spring camps to create a foundation within the system. Now, the challenge is a lot more dramatic, one that’s been exacerbated by a balky hamstring.

“Missing OTAs and that type of stuff kind of set a lot of the rookies back, but a lot of the vets are helping us out,” Vereen said after practice on Thursday. “We’re moving along pretty well. We’ll see how it goes and it continues to progress.”

One thing Vereen can lean on is his collegiate experience, one he says helped prepare him for the NFL.

“Certain things are real similar, but the names are different and the terminology is a lot different. You have to get used to the terminology as well,” he said. “[But] it helped a lot. The system was used in college was pretty spread, and we did a lot of things out of it. It helped a lot. It helped me understand defenses.”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick talked earlier on Thursday about the challenges that await a rookie running back like Vereen.

“Talk about blitz pickup, all the different fronts you can have, all the different blitz assignments, with various protections and all the combination blitzes that we see these days,” said Belichick before practice on Thursday.

“I think running back is a very mentally challenging position to learn. All the different run reads, the fronts that teams run, the way they stem to them, the stunts when the ball is snapped, things that happen after the ball is snapped, reading coverages, recognizing man, zone, combination man and zones, guys that are blitzing, guys that are faking that they’re blitzing but they’re really in coverage, guys that start off in coverage and then turn around and blitz. I think the running back’s job is very difficult.”

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