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Shane Vereen: ‘I was ecstatic’ to be back on field against Panthers

11.20.13 at 3:31 pm ET

FOXBORO — A transformative offensive presence, Shane Vereen provided a spark for the Patriots offense when he returned to the field Monday night against the Panthers. The running back, who had been sidelined since Week 1 because of a wrist injury he suffered in a win over the Bills, had eight catches for 65 yards and one carry for seven yards in the loss in Carolina.

Vereen, who said he didn’t feel limited in what he could do, was on the field for 34 of a possible 72 snaps, according to numbers compiled by Pro Football Focus.

“I was ecstatic,” he said following practice on Wednesday. “I’ve been away a long time, and just to be out there with the guys and the team and feel like a part of the team again and feel that I could contribute, it was awesome.

“I just concentrated on what I needed to do, personally — my assignment on each play,” he added. “I had to kind of calm myself down and take it slow. I really took the game at a slower rate mentally so I didn’t overwhelm myself with the excitement and everything going on.”

This season has been a difficult one for Vereen, who has struggled with injury in the past. He spent a large portion of his rookie season on the shelf because of a hamstring problem.

“It’s tough. Real tough,” he said when asked about his time on the sideline. “Nobody likes being injured, and especially, someone who has been injured as much as I have. It was tough, seeing my team out there and I couldn’t participate, but I’m back now. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get better every week.

“[But] mentally, I think I was able to stay very close to the game. Able to stay very close within our scheme — our offense. That way, when I did come back, I was still up to date with everything.”

Against Carolina, Vereen seemed to slide back into the role of third-down presence, a role that he appeared well on his way to filling when the Patriots allowed Danny Woodhead to walk as a free agent this past offseason. It’s an important part of the New England offense — without Vereen for much of the first half of the season, the Patriots had struggled on third down. So it wasn’t much of a surprise to see Vereen play a sizable part in helping move the chains against the Panthers, as seven of his touches went for first downs, with three of those coming in third-down situations.

“He has really emerged and developed into that role,” said quarterback Tom Brady when asked about Vereen’s emergence as the third-down back. “He got to learn from Kevin [Faulk] for a little bit and you know Danny Woodhead was here to help last year, but he has really taken it on this year. I think the best part is he really understands the importance and magnitude of that role and takes a lot of pride in it.

“You’€™ve seen what he’€™s capable of in the first week of the year and last week. He gets single coverage, he gets out. It’€™s a difficult position because there’€™s blocking, you have to run the ball, you’€™ve got to get your blitz pickup, you’€™ve got to get out into the route, you’€™ve got to get open, you’€™ve got to catch the ball, and you’€™ve got to do something with it. He can do all those things, so he is a very, very good football player.”

While Vereen acknowledges that third down is his primary job, it doesn’t mean that’s how he should ultimately be defined.

“I think each week your role changes based on the defense you’re playing, based on the offensive game plan,” he said. “I wouldn’t say any role is harder than any other role. I would say that whatever they ask you to do, you rep it and you’re accountable for that responsibility.”

Ultimately, Vereen is excited about being part of a New England offense that suddenly has a ton of its elite-level options — including Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola — nearing full strength as the stretch run looms.

“It’s exciting. It’s exciting to get everybody back on the field at the same time,” he said. “We still have a lot of work to do and moving forward, hopefully, we’ll be able to put a better product on the field.

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