|5 thoughts on return of LeGarrette Blount, state of Patriots running game||11.21.14 at 12:12 am ET|
1. In stark contrast to the nasty words that were coming out of the Pittsburgh locker room in the wake of what happened with LeGarrette Blount over the last week, on Thursday, the vibe around the Patriots was all good when it came to the newest Patriot. Special teams captain Matthew Slater called him a “great teammate,” while fullback James Develin said it was “good” to have him back. Meanwhile, Jonas Gray — who likely will see his role shrink some with the addition of Blount — said he had no problem with the move, adding that the veteran is is a “great guy to learn from.” As for what sort of role awaits him, it’s likely he’ll split duties with Gray as the primary between-the-tackles back, as well as serve as some sort of insurance policy if the stage gets too big for the youngster, or if he puts the ball on the ground at some point. It’s also possible he sees time as a part-time kick returner — with the occasional exception of Danny Amendola, no one has really done much to distinguish themselves in the position. With his background last year, it certainly makes sense for the Patriots to give him a shot back there.
2. Few teams have seen the type of turnover at the running back position as New England. With the injury to Ridley, if form holds, the Patriots will have their sixth different back lead the team in rushing in 2014 over the last decade — only four other teams (Saints, Browns, Broncos and Cardinals) have had more. Corey Dillon (2004-2006), Laurence Maroney (2007, 2009), Sammy Morris (2008), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2010-2011) and Stevan Ridley (2012-2013). And now, with Ridley on the shelf the rest of the year, this season it figures to be either Vereen, Gray or Blount. That could change again next year, as Brandon Bolden, Ridley and Shane Vereen are all in the final year of their contracts, while Blount, Gray and rookie James White are all under contract for 2015. (In addition, Tyler Gaffney, who was claimed by the Patriots this summer but is spending the year on injured reserve because of a knee issue, is still a possibility to be a part of the mix next season.) Regardless, even with all the changes, things could still change between now and the start of next season.
3. As forward thinking as the Patriots offense — and the passing game in particular — has been the last few years, there’s something impressively retro about what New England might be able to do this season. If we operate with the idea that a “running back by committee” includes a team with four backs with at least 40 carries, it appears that for the second straight season, the Patriots will attempt to be the first team to win a Super Bowl using the “running back by committee” approach since the 1987 Redskins, who won Super Bowl. Right now, the Patriots three different backs reach with at least 69 carries (Ridley with 94, Vereen with 70 and Gray with 69). While some of those numbers are borne out of necessarily since Ridley went down, if Blount is able to click down the stretch for New England — and it’s entirely possible he can hit the 40-carry mark, given his experience in the system — he would be a fourth. If the Patriots could take the title, it would represent the greatest cross-section of work for running backs for any Super Bowl champion since that Washington team emerged with a win in Super Bowl XXII. (Of course, that Redskins team could be discounted on a penalty, as that was a strike year and one of the backs was a scab who rushed 80 times in three strike games but never played another down. If you disqualify them on a technicality, them the last true RBBC team to win a Super Bowl in a non-strike year was the 1981 Niners, a team that had five different backs finish with 40 carries or more: Ricky Patton, Earl Cooper, Johnny Davis, Walt Easley and Paul Hofer.)
|Patriots running backs prepared to fill void left in wake of Stevan Ridley’s season-ending injury||10.15.14 at 7:00 am ET|
FOXBORO — With Stevan Ridley reportedly lost for the year with a torn ACL and MCL, the Patriots have their work cut out for them to make up for his loss.
Of the Patriots’ 660 yards rushing this season, Ridley has accounted for 52 percent of them — 340 yards.
There is no question Shane Vereen will be a player who will likely step up with the loss of Ridley, but his style is more catching passes out of the backfield and only run on draw plays — not be a No. 1 back. Vereen hasn’t had a game this season with more than nine carries, but does have 18 catches for 114 yards.
New England will likely use all of their backs and ride the hot hand each week to make up for the loss of the fourth-year running back. Here is a look at the three other players and how they now view their roles:
Bolden has the most experience of the three as he has 126 career rushing attempts for 570 yards with five touchdowns, now in his third season in the league. While Bolden said he hasn’t been notified of a No. 1 back role, he feels he could be one if given the opportunity.
“Anybody in the league thinks that, but no, as of now I am here to do whatever the team asks me to do,” said Bolden.
Bolden has played a significant role on special teams this season — securing his spot on the game roster each week — but now, because of his experience, he may soon be playing a significant role in the running game rather than on special teams.
|Stevan Ridley sees ‘drastic’ improvement in Patriots rushing attack||09.17.14 at 4:54 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Sometimes one week can make all the difference in the world.
In Week 1 against the Dolphins the Patriots ran for just 89 yards, only 28 of them coming in the second half as they ran just seven running plays the final 30 minutes of the game. Week 2 against the Vikings was a different story as the team ran for 150 total yards, 96 of them coming in the second half.
Stevan Ridley led the way, rushing for 101 yards on 21 carries.
“We’ve improved each week. I think Miami to Minnesota, I think [the offense and offensive line] made a drastic improvement,” Ridley said. “We all keep leaning on each other and relying on each other. I think we’re going to be OK towards the end of the year.”
On a personal level, the key for Ridley was staying patient as he only rushed for 29 yards in the first half, but was able to pick it up in the second half against a tired and demoralized Minnesota defense.
“Every back goes out there and wants to take it the distance, but there are going to be times that it’s going to be just two yards, three yards and you just have to keep plugging,” said Ridley. “You have stay disciplined as a runner and keep your legs moving and falling forward. That’s what you have to do to get the tough yardage, eventually they are going to break and you’ll get some big runs.”
Overall, the Patriots rank 16th in the NFL in rushing, this after being ranked 21st following Week 1. Like Ridley said, the Patriots are focused on getting better each week, wanting to reach its peak once December and the end of the season hits.
Ridley isn’t the only back who has seen time as Shane Vereen has been a force both in the running game and catching passes out of the backfield. Vereen has 76 yards on 13 carries and has caught six passes for 35 yards. Running the ball effectively and with consistency goes a long way in the Patriots offense as the team is 38-1 when a player runs for 100 yards or more under Bill Belichick.
“It’s only Week 3. The first week we struggled and the second week we got it going. There’s a lot of football left to be played, so I don’t want to jump in front of myself. From week-to-week I see improvement and that’s all we can ask for, especially with the group of guys that we have up there. There are some new faces – I think we all know that – but, like I said we’re just going in week in and week out showing what we can do,” Ridley said. “Eventually, these upcoming weeks, hopefully we will have a balanced attack going into every game and that’s what makes us hard [to stop]. The key word is hard work around here and that’s what we do.”
|Bill Belichick on Stevan Ridley: ‘We never want the ball out’||08.17.14 at 12:50 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Here we go again.
It’s only the preseason but the question of Stevan Ridley and ball security has arisen once more.
On his seventh carry Friday night against the Eagles, Ridley ran off to his right, behind the right guard and just as he appeared to be falling routinely to the ground at the Philadelphia 10, the ball came out.
It was recovered by fullback James Develin so the Patriots managed to salvage the red zone chance and finished it off when Jimmy Garoppolo found Brandon LaFell in the back of the end zone.
There was some question as to whether it was a fumble at all as Ridley was close to having his backside on the turf when the ball came out when safety Earl Wolff stripped it out. But to head coach Bill Belichick, who has been down this road for the last three seasons with Ridley, whether it was down by contact was not the issue.
“We always talk about ball security, taking care of the ball. There’s nothing that correlates more to winning and losing than turnovers, so that’s always a high priority for us,” Belichick said in his Saturday conference call. “We never want the ball out and on the other side of the ball defensively and in the kicking game, we always try to get it out. Sometimes when we get the ball out, we don’t recover it or sometimes when we get it out they blow it dead but we always want to try to do that. The same goes true for the offensive side of the ball.”
Ridley came out of the game on what appeared to be his normal rotation but when he began to sprint on the field before the LaFell touchdown, he was called back and Brandon Bolden took his place. Bolden had two runs and rookie James White had another as Ridley was given time to consider his indiscretion.
“We don’t want plays where they end up with the ball, whether they’re ruled in our favor or not,” Belichick said. “Guys that have an interception in their hands but drop it or plays where the ball gets away from us, whether we recover it or it goes out of bounds or they recover it, those are all plays we’re trying to avoid, obviously. They do matter. So do the ones that, same thing on defense, the plays that we get out, we don’t get them all but the more we get them out, the more we’ll get, so they are significant.”
Ridley’s trouble with holding onto the ball is well-chronicled in New England. He has lost four fumbles in each of the last two seasons and was benched for the AFC championship and Super Bowl in his rookie season when he lost a fumble in the regular season finale and a playoff win over the Texans in Jan. 2012. Still, Ridley remains one of the most productive runners in the Patriots backfield, averaging 4.5 yards and rushing for 20 touchdowns in his first three seasons in New England.
|Monday Patriots practice report: No Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Bolden as Pats D steps it up against RGIII||08.04.14 at 11:59 am ET|
RICHMOND, Va. — The Patriots and Redskins began their 2 1/2-hour initial scrimmage Monday morning under cloudy skies but by the time the haze burned off, it was a sunny, warm day with temperatures in the upper 70s.
The conditions expect to be much more intense Tuesday as the two teams will scrimmage again in the heat of the mid-afternoon here in Richmond.
Rob Gronkowski was not on the field as he continues to work his way back into full practice mode. To this point, the tight end has only been taking part in walk-through reps and individual passing drills in full pads.
Other Patriots players not taking part in the practice were special teams captain Matthew Slater, receiver Aaron Dobson, running back Brandon Bolden and center Bryan Stork.
Here are some quick observations from practice:
Tom Brady overthrew Kenbrell Thompkins on the first play of full 11-on-11 scrimmage. The pass was a route over the middle and Thompkins attempted to climb the ladder and would’ve been hit hard by the cornerback if it were in game conditions. Brady then was nearly perfect on the next three passes, two to Julian Edelman and one to Danny Amendola, as Edelman worked on D’Angelo Hall.
Brady felt heavy pressure in the pocket on the next series and stepped up and threw a bomb to wide-open Thompkins, who ran a post pattern.
Ryan Mallett continued to struggle badly with consistency. He made one sharp touch pass on a sideline pattern to Shane Vereen and an accurate pass over the middle to Justin Jones, but he threw two interceptions and overthrew Brandon LaFell on two other passes.
Rookie Jimmy Garoppolo also saw time against Redskins backups as he ran the second-team offense. He connected with D.J. Williams on one pass over the middle and found Brian Tyms down the right sideline in 7-on-7 drills.
|With LeGarrette Blount gone, do Patriots need to add backfield depth?||03.28.14 at 9:30 pm ET|
The departure of LeGarrette Blount to the Steelers means there will be more on the plate of Stevan Ridley in 2014, who now appears likely to return to his role as the closest thing the New England offense has to a featured back. Meanwhile, Shane Vereen figures to work in a change up role as the third down option and pass catcher out of the backfield, and Brandon Bolden will stick in his role as all-purpose backup.
But is there a need to bring in another body for depth? While running back isn’t considered an overwhelming priority for the Patriots (there are other greater areas of need, at least at this stage of the team-building process), it wouldn’t be a surprise for them to address it with a mid-round pickup in the draft, especially considering the fact that the bargain basement has been pretty much picked over, at least at this point. (The best options right now are probably Andre Brown, Michael Bush and Justin Forsett, as well as broken-down editions of Felix Jones, Ronnie Brown and Willis McGahee.)
With the understanding that the Patriots would be targeting a guy like that no earlier than the third day of the draft because of other areas of greater need, here are three backs who might be available to the Patriots this year as mid- to late-round possibilities:
a) Storm Johnson, Central Florida – A multidimensional back who has already drawn the attention of the Patriots — the 6-foot, 209-pounder was one of a handful of players who went through a workout for the Patriots’ brain trust when they were in Florida this past week for the league meetings — last season he had 1,139 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground to go along with 30 catches for 260 yards and three receiving touchdowns.
b) Andre Williams, Boston College – Remarkably, the 5-foot-11, 230-pounder led the nation in rushing last year for the Eagles, ending up with 2,177 rushing yards and becoming a Heisman finalist as a result. At the combine, he fully acknowledged the fact that he needs to improve when it comes to his work in pass protection as well as a receiver out of the backfield, but his colossal yardage total from last year will almost certainly make him attractive to someone.
c) Bishop Sankey, Washington – A little on the smaller side, like Johnson, this 5-foot-9, 209-pounder offers value in the passing game as well as the running game. Last season, he ran for 1,870 yards for a 5.7 average and 20 touchdowns to go along with 28 catches for 304 yards and one touchdown.
Of course, this doesn’t begin to take into account what the Patriots do at the kick return spot in 2014. Blount’s departure could open the door for any number of possibilities on special teams, including Josh Boyce, Devin McCourty or collegian Jeremy Gallon, who had a private workout for New England special teams coach Scotty O’Brien earlier this week in Ann Arbor. While the different looks that the three backs present should be enough to keep opposing defensive coordinators on their toes in 2014, it’s clear the Patriots do need to address the position going forward, especially considering the fact that Vereen and Ridley are heading into the final year of their rookie deals. Certainly a spot to watch going forward this offseason for New England.
|BC’s Andre Williams would welcome chance to join Patriots||02.22.14 at 9:24 am ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — The Patriots aren’t likely to be in the market for a running back this year, and if they are, it’s unlikely they’d go after someone in the first two days of the draft.
With a stable of backs like Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden — and that doesn’t begin to take into account whether or not free agent LeGarrette Blount would return — the one offensive skill position area you’d think New England would feel pretty good about in 2014.
But that doesn’t necessarily stop Boston College running back Andre Williams from speculating about what it might be like to stay in the New England area. Williams, who led the nation in rushing with 2,177 yards and was a Heisman finalist, sounds like he’d welcome a chance to stick around the area for as long as he could.
If Blount walks in free agency — and Williams drops in the draft — chances are he might get his wish.
“It would be a blessing to end up on the Patriots squad,” said the 5-foot-11, 230-pounder Friday at the combine. “They’re a winning franchise. They have a great coach. He seems like a really levelheaded cool guy to deal with. It would be great to go back to the Northeast. That’s where my family is situated right now. It would be a great fit.”
Williams, who is current projected as a second-day pick who could end up dropping to the third day of the draft depending on how things shake out, made his bones in a run-first offense at Boston College, one that was tailored to fit his strengths. Even though he was one of the best backs in college football last season, when he reaches the NFL, he knows that he’ll have to tweak his game.
“I think my game is going to have to evolve,” he acknowledged. “I think I’m going to be called upon to catch the ball more, pass protect more, know what’s going on, on defense more. Make reads on fronts and coverages faster than before. That’s part of becoming a professional from the amateur level. Upping your level of preparation.
“I think my pass protection is solid. This year there was a lot of play-action built in to our game plan. But we did have some drop-back pass. And in past years, the offense was different. I was relied more on pass protection. I think it’s pretty solid.”
Williams, who has meetings scheduled with the Bills, Ravens, Jaguars and Bengals, went through some coaching upheaval while at BC, as the Eagles went from Frank Spaziani to Steve Addazio. While the changes led to some struggles, he said it also helped draw the guys on the roster closer.
“I would say my time at BC was…a journey,” said Williams. “There was a lot going on from year to year, different coaching changes and what not. But I think there was a real stability in the team itself. I really enjoyed being around my teammates. I really enjoyed Chestnut HIll and the Boston area. There’s a lot of great people a lot of great influences around me at BC. I really enjoyed my time there.”