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Patriots running backs could get more of a pass this season

07.29.12 at 6:09 pm ET
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Shane Vereen talks with reporters after practice Sunday afternoon. (AP)

FOXBORO — In Josh McDaniels‘ last season as the offensive coordinator in New England, the Patriots targeted running backs 105 times and came away with 78 catches. But since then, the running backs’ impact in the passing game has lessened considerably: In 2009, it dipped slightly to 74 catches on 105 targets. In 2010, it was 61 catches on 86 targets, and last season, it was 37 catches on 58 targets.

But even though the New England passing game has continued to evolve — particularly with the emergence of the tight ends — the return of McDaniels could mean the Patriots passing game leans on the running backs more often than it has the last few seasons. One way to get them involved is through the screen game, a McDaniels favorite. While Stevan Ridley said the screen game was only about “5 percent” of his game as a collegian at LSU, Shane Vereen was a bit more involved while at Cal. Vereen had 74 receptions in his three years in college, and he sounded enthusiastic about the possibility of the Patriots doing more passing to the backs this season.

“I think it just fits into the offense. We’ve got to be able to do multiple things as an offense and we’ve got to be able to do them well. In order to do it well you’ve got to practice it,” Vereen said. “[It’s] effective because it puts defenses on their heels, but it also just opens another chapter of our offense.”

While Ridley — who had 17 catches out of the backfield while at LSU and three last season as a rookie with the Patriots — doesn’t have the same level of experience in the passing game, he said after practice on Sunday that it’s “fun” to be a part of.

“To see three big linemen out there in front of you try and get downfield on some DBs, it’s a chance to make a big play,” he said. “For me, it’s a present almost when you have lead blockers going downfield like that. I look forward to it when it does open up. It’s a lot of fun. If we can get it down and get it like the coaches want us to run it, we’ll get to call that play a pretty good bit.”

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Josh McDaniels, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley
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