Five thoughts on a possible reset of Patriots running game
|09.09.13 at 5:32 pm ET|
With Stevan Ridley having ball security issues, Shane Vereen now focusing on a broken bone in his wrist, and the reintroduction of Leon Washington back into the mix, here are five thoughts regarding a possible reset at running back for the Patriots.
1. The loss of Vereen for any length of time will be a big blow to this offense, as his multidimensional abilities bring a unique skill set to the New England passing game. In his place — provided he’s ready — some of those snaps could go to Washington, who has filled that role of third-down back in the past to great acclaim. (He’s posted 146 catches over the course of his seven-plus years in the NFL.) However, there remains some question as to just how much he has left in the tank, as he has clearly shifted over the last few years from an offensive threat to more of a special teams presence, specifically as a kick returner. He could provide some support in the running game but probably is more of a depth addition at this stage of his career.
2. Prior to the news that Vereen will be on the shelf for an extended stretch, it was my belief that he could have served as the lead back. His body type might not necessarily fit the mold as a feature back who could carry an NFL offense over the course of a 16-game season, but I was reminded of his between-the-tackles ability that his college position coach Ron Gould noted when I spoke with him for this story shortly after the Patriots drafted Vereen. It’s worth mentioning that Vereen flashed some of that ability down the stretch against the Bills. While the idea may be moot now that Vereen will be out for a few weeks with his injury — which could force Ridley back into the lineup, regardless of whether or not he’s in Bill Belichick‘s doghouse — it’s an option to consider down the road.
3. At this point, if Ridley does continue to stumble, expect the reps to be split between LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden. Bolden struggled with injury over the course of the offseason and into the summer, but he remains a viable option as a changeup presence in the backfield. Blount didn’t exactly dazzle in the regular season opener — he ended up with 15 yards on seven carries — but is a good get-you-over option for a week or two if needed.
4. The state of the young pass catchers could also figure into how much the Patriots rely on the running game over the next few weeks, particularly wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins and tight end Zach Sudfeld. Both youngsters struggled in the opener against the Bills, but if they are able to progress and take on more of the offensive workload, that could relieve some of the targets that would go toward Vereen or Washington.
5. There’s always the possibility of some more roster moves. That’s not to suggest they’d go out and target an available free agent (strictly for depth moves), but there are some possibilities, including George Winn, a young running back who impressed in limited action over the course of the summer. Winn, a 5-foot-11, 210-pound rookie out of Cincinnati, had 14 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown in the preseason finale against Giants but was cut on Aug. 31. This is not to suggest that Winn would be able to contribute immediately, but he could be more of a depth signing at this point. (It’s important to note that in the context of this conversation, there are no running backs on the New England practice squad.)