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Countdown to Patriots Camp: Running back/fullback

07.23.12 at 4:04 pm ET
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In the days leading up to the start of Patriots training camp, we’€™ll take a quick look at how each position shakes out. We started our previews at quarterback. Now, we take a look at the running back position:

Roster (2011 stats): Stevan Ridley (87 carries, 441 yards, one touchdown), Shane Vereen (15 carries, 57 yards, one touchdown), Danny Woodhead (77 carries, 351 yards, one touchdown, 18 receptions, 157 receiving yards), Joseph Addai (118 carries, 433 rushing yards, one touchdown, 15 receptions, 93 receiving yards with Indy), Brandon Bolden, Eric Kettani, Spencer Larsen, Tony Fiammetta.

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

There will be no bell cow in 2012. With the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis (a team-high 667 rushing yards in 2011), the Patriots’€™ running game will be a collective this season, utilizing the entire group in an attempt to be more of a game-plan attack. It wouldn’€™t be a surprise to see the Patriots lean on Ridley one week, and then Addai or Vereen (if he can bounce back from a rookie season that was spent mostly on the sidelines) the next depending on the type of defense New England is facing. But don’€™t look for one back to top 800 yards.

If he’€™s got anything left, Joseph Addai could be the next great veteran Patriots’€™ pickup. It’€™s been easy to see why the Patriots jumped on the former Colts’€™ running back when he hit free agency. His new teammates and coaches have been impressed by his veteran presence, hard work and overall commitment. One opposing scout says that Addai still ‘€œhas something still left in the tank, and can benefit from being in the offense that has so many things for defense to be concerned about.’€ Addai has worked as a running back, receiver and in blitz pickup over the course of his career, and if the 29-year-old can stay away from the injury bug, he could be the next veteran who receives a career jolt by relocating to Foxboro.

Danny Woodhead will continue to be one of the most important parts of the New England offense. He was the only guy on the roster last season who was in the Top 5 on the team in rushing attempts and receptions, finishing the season with 77 carries for 351 yards and a touchdown and 18 catches for 157 yards.

THREE QUESTIONS

1. Will the Patriots use a fullback in 2012? The Patriots picked up Spencer Larsen and Tony Fiammetta in the offseason, and welcomed Eric Kettani back into the fold. It’€™s unlikely they’€™ll keep more than one fullback, which means there will likely be a nice positional battle this summer at the spot. Right now, odds favor Larsen for a few reasons, not the least of which he has some impressive positional versatility — he’€™s played both fullback and linebacker at the NFL level.

2. Is Stevan Ridley past his rough finish to the 2011 season?
The LSU product had a pair of ill-timed fumbles (are there any other kind?) at the end of his rookie year, fumbling once in the regular-season finale against the Bills and again in the divisional playoffs against the Broncos. He was scratched from the AFC title game, and while he was active for the Super Bowl, didn’€™t touch the ball. It’€™ll be interesting to see if Ridley, who showed real flashes throughout the season, can bounce back from a rough stretch.

3. Does Kevin Faulk return?
With training camp a few days away, the veteran is unsigned. He’€™s made it clear that he’€™s going to come back for the Patriots, and if New England doesn’€™t call, he’€™ll call it a career. If that’€™s the case, he’€™ll be remembered as one of the toughest, most dependable players to ever wear a New England uniform.

By the numbers, courtesy of Nuggetpalooza: The Patriots’€™ longest rushing play last season was 33 yards. In the last 18 seasons, only in 2005 did the Pats fail to bust a longer rushing play (31 yards). In 2001, only one team, the Jets (31 yards), had a long rush that was shorter than New England’€™s 33 yards.

The skinny: While the possibility exists that someone seizes the job and (no pun intended) runs with it, it’€™s looking like the Patriots are going to go with running back-by-committee, at least at the start of the season. That’€™s not necessarily a bad thing. While New England does need a steady running game, it’€™s not like the Patriots are going to start running the option. Because of the strength of the passing game, what you’€™re looking for from this group of backs are three things: One, an ability to average four yards a carry and keep the chains moving. Two, the need to at least keep defenses on their toes when it comes to the possibility of running play action. And three, ball control — with no fumbles. While they got that the last two seasons with Green-Ellis, they’€™d love to get that this season from the current group.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Brandon Bolden, Countdown to Camp, Danny Woodhead
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