|Resetting Patriots depth chart in backfield||04.12.16 at 4:31 pm ET|
With the changes over the offseason — and the draft approaching — it’s worth taking a look at the Patriots backfield as it stands right now.
LeGarrette Blount: The veteran — he’ll turn 30 in December — agreed to a one-year deal to return to the Patriots on Tuesday. The 6-foot-1, 245-pounder, who was limited to 12 games last season, saw his year come to a premature end because of a hip injury. He ended the season with 165 carries for 703 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and six touchdowns. Blount was at his best when he was part of a rotation that included Dion Lewis. While the Patriots will almost certainly chase after after more depth at the position in the draft, at this point on the calendar, he projects as the No. 1 between-the-tackles back.
Dion Lewis: The 5-foot-8, 195-pounder was a revelation last season — in his first year with the Patriots, the 25-year-old seized command of the third-down role. He had 49 carries for 234 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and two rushing touchdowns to go along with 36 catches, 388 yards and two receiving touchdowns. Without him in the lineup — a knee injury ended his season after just seven games — the Patriots leaned heavily on James White, and the youngster had some good moments. But if Lewis is healthy coming into 2016, that’s his job.
James White: As previously mentioned, the Patriots turned to White as the lead option on third down after Lewis went down, and the 24-year-old responded with 40 catches for 410 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season (not to mention 22 carries for 56 yards and a pair of touchdowns). The 5-foo-9, 204-pound White provides depth on third down, but it’ll be interesting to see how snaps shake out over the course of the spring and summer if Lewis is healthy.
Brandon Bolden: Bolden is known more for his special teams skills than his work as a running back, but has managed to provide the Patriots with plenty of depth since his arrival in 2012, something he’ll be tasked with doing again in 2016. The 26-year-old, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound bruiser, isn’t really an option as a long-term starter, bur he has shown a nice ability to fill in as a more of a between-the-tackles guy and as a pass catcher out of the backfield. He finished last season with 63 carries for 207 yards (3.3 yards per carry) and 19 catches for 180 yards and a pair of receiving touchdowns. Look for him in the same role this year.
Donald Brown: The newly acquired Brown — who was the subject of one of the best NFL highlights of all time — could be an intriguing piece of the puzzle this season. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder out of UConn really struggled the last two seasons with the Chargers, but the 29-year-old could be the latest example of the buy-low attitude the Patriots have had when it comes to running backs the last decade or so. Brown averaged 3.14 yards per carry the last two season with San Diego, a far cry from his 2013 totals in Indy when he finished with 537 rushing yards, six touchdowns and a career best 5.3 yards per carry average, not to mention 27 catches for 214 yards and two receiving touchdowns. If he can regain his old form, it could shake up the depth chart a bit this summer.
Joey Iosefa: The fullback, who will turn 25 in June, had his one shining moment in 2015 when he carried 14 times for 51 yards in a December win over the Titans. Provided he stays healthy, the 6-foot, 245-pounder out of Hawaii, who was signed to a futures contract in January, will be part of the conversation at the fullback spot in 2016.
James Develin: The incumbent fullback, who will turn 28 this summer, missed all of 2015 with a broken right tibia he suffered in the preseason. His absence was one of the more underrated aspects of a stalled New England ground game at the end of the year, but the 6-foot-3, 251-pounder figures to be back in 2016.
|Bill Belichick won’t acknowledge reported Steven Jackson signing, does say roster move ‘definitely possible’||12.21.15 at 12:42 pm ET|
“I’m not going to comment on any players that aren’t on our team,” Belichick said Monday’s noon conference call.
Later he was asked directly if a roster addition is possible in the next 24-48 hours, and the coach was a little more direct.
“At this time of year, yeah, it’s definitely possible,” he said.
In Sunday’s win over the Titans the team had James White, Brandon Bolden and Joey Iosefa in the backfield. Iosefa was the leading rusher, as he ran for 51 yards on 14 carries, while Bolden had 26 yards on 10 carries. White was a major factor catching passes out of the backfield, as he had seven catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. Bolden, primarily a special-teamer, didn’t play a snap on special teams in the game because of his running back duties.
Belichick thought his backs ran hard despite facing a tough Tennessee defense and played a role in the team’s 33-16 win.
Bill Belichick finally got his man.
The Patriots coach, who always has shown an affinity for veteran running back Steven Jackson, apparently is going to make it official Monday, as New England is set to sign the 32-year-old back to a one-year deal for the remainder of the 2015 season.
As we initially explained here, it’s debatable how much Jackson has left in the tank. But it’s been clear over the years that Belichick has been impressed by his skill set, dating all the way back to 2004, when he worked him out as a collegian. The Patriots didn’t end up drafting him, but he was a favorite of the New England coach.
“I went out there and met with him and spent the whole day, pretty much the whole day with him out there — he was a very impressive individual,” Belichick said of Jackson in the days before a Patriots-Rams game in 2012.
“Obviously a big, strong kid that runs well, that catches the ball very well,” Belichick added. “Very good in the passing game — he’s a little underrated in that area. Good in blitz pickup. A smart guy. Has really had an outstanding career. He was definitely a guy we were very much interested in. Like I said, I personally spent quite a bit of time with him.”
The 6-foot-3, 229-pound Jackson, who turned 32 last summer, has run for 11,388 yards over the course of his career in stints with the Rams and Falcons. Now, after not playing all year, Jackson enters an uncertain running back picture in New England. The Patriots have lost LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis for the season. On Sunday against Tennessee, New England relied heavily on the likes of Brandon Bolden, James White and Joey Iosefa in the 33-16 win over the Titans.
Despite the fact that Belichick always has viewed running backs as a fungible asset, the presence of a healthy Jackson down the stretch and into the postseason could be an intriguing asset for an offense that needs just enough from the running game to make the opposing defense concerned about the threat of the ground attack. Meanwhile, Iosefa could work in relief of Jackson as a big, between-the-tackles presence and White would serve as the third-down option out of the backfield. (That doesn’t even bring up the possibility of recently signed practice squadder Montee Ball entering into the mix at some point.)
There’s a significant domino effect in play here as well, as Bolden — who made his bones as a special teamer — didn’t play a single special teams snap in Sunday’s win over the Titans. With the presence of Jackson in the lineup, it could free up Bolden to return to his special teams gig for the rest of the year.
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|Scouting Report: What you need to know about Titans-Patriots||12.19.15 at 1:55 pm ET|
Here’s everything you need to know when the Patriots (11-2) take on the Titans (3-10) Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL
Because of injuries, no part of the New England personnel unit has changed more dramatically than the backfield this year, and more tweaks are still to come as the regular season winds down and the playoffs looms. The Patriots, now bereft of LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis, figure to go with some sort of combination of Brandon Bolden (35 carries, 110 yards, 3.1 yards per carry) and James White (16 carries, 41 yards, 2.6 yards per carry) for the foreseeable future, with the possibility of Montee Ball and Steven Jackson being worked into the mix at some point. Unless Ball is activated between now and Saturday night, it appears that it’ll be Bolden’s job on Sunday against the Titans. On the other side of the ball, Tennessee is 17th in the league against the run, having allowed an average of 111.5 rushing yards per contest. In 11 of their 13 games this season, the Titans have allowed 80 or more rushing yards, including seven games where opponents topped the 100-plus yard mark. That includes last week against the Jets, who ran for 183 yards against Tennessee in a game that was over by the second quarter. Ultimately, while the loss of the lead back in Blount isn’t the sort of crippling blow that would necessarily derail most teams, it’ll force the Patriots to get a little creative with their ground game the rest of the way. That project figures to get off the ground Sunday afternoon against Tennessee.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL
Slowly but surely, the Patriots passing game is returning to where it was in late October. Tom Brady (64.2 completion rate, 4,138 passing yards, 33 TDs, 6 INTs, 103.6 passer rating) regained Danny Amendola (62 catches, 81 targets, 628 yards, 3 TDs) a couple of weeks ago and Rob Gronkowski (61 catches, 96 targets, 1,018 yards, 10 TDs) last week against the Texans. While Julian Edelman (61 catches, 88 targets, 692 yards, 7 TDs) is still a week or so away by most reports, the groundwork for his return is already being laid with a return to what appears to be a regular practice schedule. If the Patriots are able to get their core of pass-catchers — a group that includes White (26 catches, 38 targets, 248 yards, 2 TDs) and Brandon LaFell (30 catches, 64 targets, 401 yards) — back before the start of the playoffs, New England fans will have every right to start humming “Happy Days Are Here Again.” On the other side, Tennessee enters Sunday’s game ninth in the league in passing yards allowed with 232.5. (For some perspective, the Patriots are seventh at 230.8 passing yards yielded per game.) However, those numbers have dipped as of late because of the injury to Jason McCourty — the Titans have allowed at least 250 passing yards in six of their last nine games. In addition, the fact that Derrick Morgan (and his 4.5 sacks) are now gone for the season puts more pressure on the defenders who remain to get pressure on the quarterback up front and extend some of those over times on the back end. Per Football Outsiders, the Titans are good at locking up opposing backs in the passing game, but are at or near the bottom of the league when it comes to slowing just about any other types of pass catchers. Could mean a big day for the likes of a healthy Amendola and Gronkowski.
|Why Bill Belichick passes on picking up running backs||12.18.15 at 10:59 am ET|
FOXBORO — There’s always the chance Bill Belichick signs a running back in the last three weeks to help out with depth on the roster.
But if you’re expecting the Patriots coach to find a feature running back who can do it all, that’s something altogether different, as he made clear Friday.
There was plenty of talk this week about the Patriots bringing in a back like Steven Jackson to help carry some of the running game load. But on Friday, Belichick shed some light as to why adding a back at this time of season can be a very tricky proposition.
So while it might seem Belichick was being defensive in his refusal to talk about Jackson on Friday, there’s also the reality that if Belichick were to sign Jackson at this stage of the season, given the Patriots pass-heavy offense, the coach might be very limited in what he could demand of him in return.
“I think it depends on what you ask the player to do,” Belichick said. “If you hand him the ball, [it’s] probably not too difficult. Once you get into the passing game ‘ pass protection, pass routes, adjustments in the passing game ‘ you’re talking about a much, much, much, much more complex and a lot more variations. In terms of running the ball you just get the footwork, get the ball handling and give the player an understanding of the blocking scheme, which he’s probably I’d say in most cases seen before ‘ zone schemes or some kind of gap schemes.
“There are basic fundamentals in the running game. You either basically zone block them or you gap block them. Everything pretty much fits into one of those two categories. I would say most backs have probably somewhere along the line run those, but when you start getting into the pass protections and base defenses and sub defenses and routes versus man, routes versus zone, situational plays and all that, it’s a whole different ball game.”
In other words, Belichick is saying that while it’s not ideal to be down to Brandon Bolden and James White, there are other methods for attacking the short-yardage game with the offense he and Tom Brady already have in place.
“I think we’ve done it a couple times. It’s certainly not ideal. But could we do it? Given our offense, we have versatility,” Belichick said. “We have other ways of dealing with things. But we played the majority of the game last week with two. Again, it’s not ideal, but you’ve still got to do what you feel like gives your team the best chance to win. Again I would say if you lose two of any player at any position ‘ pick any position you want ‘ there are probably going to be some issues. I mean you might be able to lose two receivers and still, but you’re not going to be able to run your sub packages with multiple ‘¦ You’re going to lose something on that. There is just no way to go into a game and have three of everything. It’s impossible.”
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|Why Patriots trust Brandon Bolden to replace LeGarrette Blount||12.15.15 at 3:30 pm ET|
If LeGarrette Blount is out for an extended period of time, the Patriots have no hesitation about giving Brandon Bolden a chance to fill that void in the running attack.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels made that very clear Tuesday in a weekly conference call when he pointed to Bolden demeanor and work ethic as qualities that make him the perfect choice to move forward with the run game. Bolden has been paying his dues as one of the most valuable core players on the special teams unit while spelling Blount when needed. Now, with Blount nursing a significant hip injury, it’s Bolden’s time to shine.
“I think that comes with maturity,” McDaniels said. “It’s hard to stay focused maybe when you’re real young and you’re not playing a whole lot in a specific role to understand how valuable your preparation is and how close you really are to playing. That’s a challenge for everybody. There are a lot of players that back people up and I think the more they mature, the more they understand how close they are to playing [then] the easier it is to prepare and get ready to play like you’re going to be in there on every snap. I think we have a lot of guys in our locker-room that are ready if their numbers called and are ready if something should happen and they’re called to duty and Brandon is definitely one of them.”
Bolden had 11 carries for 29 yards after Blount left with a hip injury Sunday night. While those numbers are certainly not eye-popping, his work as a core member of special teams and his ability to pop a big run at key times are facets of his game that catch the attention of the coaching staff.
Facing a third-and-8 at the Patriots 33 and the team wanting to run out the clock, Bolden hit the left side for 11 yards and a first down.
“We trust him to be in the game in those critical situations when you get a lot of different looks from the defense,” McDaniels said. “He studies hard. He’s a guy that comes to work and prepares well. There’s always been a lot of talent with Brandon and his dependability and his ability to do a lot of different things within our offense has just improved with each year that he’s been here. Brandon’s a good runner and he does a lot of things that are really valuable to our football team whether it be on offense or in the kicking game. We’ll try to certainly do the best thing we can here going forward in terms of how we use him among the rest of our backs.”
“The play that he made at the end of the game last week in Houston was a really good cut, good play on his part,” Bill Belichick added. “I don’t think we had the play blocked for the kind of yards he made on that play. He got six or seven yards with his vision and getting the ball into space on the cut back and probably made another four or five yards just with his running strength and balance to knock over a couple tacklers and pick up the first down. Probably a little over half that yardage came on his vision, his run instinct and then a few extra yards came on his physical running style and balance. I think that run is a good indication of all those things being a part of his playing style and effectiveness.”
|Bill Belichick on the reappearance of the run game: ‘We tried to stick with it’||12.14.15 at 6:55 pm ET|
HOUSTON — Whether or not Bill Belichick heard the whispers about the lack of a run game to complement Tom Brady‘s right arm, the fact of the matter is the Patriots came out with more resolve Sunday night to run the ball.
The Patriots had 15 carries for 75 yards in the first half, good for a 5.0 per carry average. LeGarrette Blount, before leaving with a hip injury, had 53 yards on just 10 carries while Brandon Bolden carried five times for 22 yards. Both backs had at least one rush for at least 10 yards.
This factored into the protection plan for the quarterback, as Brady was not sacked once and was hurried only a few times while completing 13-of-18 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. In the last four games before Sunday, the Patriots ran the ball 22, 23, 16 and 25 times as the hit totals on Brady continued to mount.
“Well, we tried to stick with it, make them play it,” Belichick said of taking the run to the Texans. “We had our moments. There were times when we were able to punch out some plays and some important plays. The touchdown run on third-and-two ‘ that was a big play for us. We had a third-down conversion on [Brandon] Bolden’s sweep there on a third-and-four, third-and-five … that was another big third-down conversion. So there were some plays like that were kind of timely plays.
“Houston is a tough team to run against. They’ve got a lot of very disruptive players. Vince [Wilfork] is a big guy in the middle, obviously, but between [Jadeveon] Clowney and [J.J.] Watt on both edges plus [Whitney] Mercilus, they’re really athletic and explosive and powerful out there, so it’s a tough matchup. The got us from behind a couple times when we had decent blocking, actually good blocking on a couple plays, and they just got us from behind. I’m not sure there are too many other players in the league that could have made the plays that Watt or Clowney made on a couple of those running plays. You’ve got to give them some credit, but I thought we competed in the running game.”
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