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With LeGarrette Blount gone, do Patriots need to add backfield depth? 03.28.14 at 9:30 pm ET
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Expect Stevan Ridley's workload to increase in 2014. (AP)

Expect Stevan Ridley’s workload to increase in 2014. (AP)

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.

Read More: Andre Williams, Bishop Sankey, Brandon Bolden, Devin McCourty
4 things we learned from combine Tuesday 02.26.14 at 12:31 am ET
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Minnesota's Brock Vereen had an impressive day Tuesday at the combine. (AP)

Minnesota’s Brock Vereen had an impressive day Tuesday at the combine. (AP)

Four things we learned from the combine Tuesday:

1. Daniel Sorensen could be this year’s Nate Ebner

On Tuesday, Sorensen — a safety out of BYU — put up some impressive numbers in the on-field workouts, and one thing that could help grab the eye of the Patriots is the fact that he posted a 6.47 in the 3-cone drill — the fifth-fastest of any position since 2006, and the best performance of anyone at the combine this year. He was second in the 60-yard shuttle (10.8) and fifth in the 20-yard shuttle (3.95). The 6-foot-1, 205-pound strong safety (a former linebacker who moved into the secondary after he lost weight on his mission trip) also had a 32-inch vertical and 9-foot-6 broad jump, both impressive numbers. Considered a special teams ace while at BYU, he could be a late-round pickup or undrafted free agent for a team like New England in need of secondary depth and special teams assistance.

2. Shane Vereen‘s brother Brock knocked it out of the park

The safety out of Minnesota finished in the top 5 in the 40 (4.47, best among all safeties), 3-cone (6.9) and short shuttle (4.07). The 6-foot, 199-pounder also bench pressed 225 pounds 25 times (best for all safeties and cornerbacks) and posted a 34-inch vertical and 117 inches in the broad jump. Considered anywhere from a mid-round to a late-round pick entering the combine, he may have solidified his status as a second-day pick based on his work this weekend in Indy. (For what it’s worth, he semi-jokingly talked about wanting to play against his brother instead of on the same team. But at the same time, he noted that he did have a meeting with the Patriots while at the combine.)

3. Justin Glibert is the best corner in the draft, but Darqueze Dennard isn’t far behind

We had Gilbert available to the Chargers at 25 in our first mock draft, but his performance this weekend will likely push him up the draft boards around the league and make him a legitimate top 15 candidate. On Tuesday, the 6-foot, 202-pound Gilbert recorded the fastest time of the day in the 40 (4.37) while also showing impressive explosiveness with a 35.5-inch vertical and 10-foot-6 broad jump. Meanwhile, Dennard (the cousin of Patriots corner Alfonzo Dennard) was also equally as impressive, showing fluidity and good range, running a 4.51. The 5-foot-11, 199-pound Dennard (who we had at No. 14 overall to the Bears) also solidified his first-round status with a really good weekend. (Ohio State’s Bradley Roby and TCU’s Jason Verrett are also likely late first-round possibilities.)

4. It’s going to be a mixed market for bigger corners

For teams looking to replicate the Seattle defensive blueprint of a super-sized secondary, there are a few intriguing possibilities out there, with one big corner doing well on Tuesday (Utah’s Keith McGill) and another struggling a little (Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste). McGill is a 6-foot-3, 212-pounder who moved from safety to corner as a collegian, but really flashed some nice speed (a 4.51 40), as well as some good performances when it came to the rest of the measureables (39-inch vertical leap and 10-foot-9 broad jump). As for Jean-Baptiste, he was a little underwhelming — another big guy who was converted to corner as a collegian, he was relatively slow when compared to the rest of the corners (4.61). He did do well in the vertical (41.5, best among defensive backs and tied for second overall) and the broad (10 feet, 8 inches), but his speed may be a factor when determining where he ultimately ends up in the draft.

Read More: 2014 combine, Bradley Roby, Brock Vereen, Daniel Sorensen
Brock Vereen leaning on big brother Shane during pre-draft process 02.23.14 at 1:57 pm ET
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Minnesota's Brock Vereen has leaned on big brother -- -- and Pats running back -- Shane throughout the pre-draft process. (AP)

Minnesota safety Brock Vereen has leaned on big brother — and Pats running back — Shane throughout the pre-draft process. (AP)

INDIANAPOLIS — The last few years, the Patriots have had the Gronkowski brothers (Dan and Rob) and the McDonald brothers (Chris and Nick).

How about the Vereens? Older brother Shane was taken out of Cal in the second round of the 2011 draft by New England, and has become one of the better third-down backs in the league. And now, younger brother Brock is poised to enter the NFL — the strong safety out of Minnesota just finished a senior season where he posted 56 tackles, one interception, six passes broken up, one forced fumble and 2.5 tackles for loss. As a result, he was named a first team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches, and was an honorable mention pick by the media.

However, the 6-foot, 199-pound Brock (who was a teammate of his brother for a year in high school) isn’€™t so sure about the idea of being on the same team with his big brother. When asked if there was a part of him who wanted to be taken higher than Shane, he quickly replied.

“I think the biggest part of me wants to hit him,”€ Brock said with a smile. “€œI just can’€™t wait until we meet on the field.

“€œBoth of us want to play against each other so much, that we really haven’€™t talked about being on the same team,”€ he added. “But if that were the case, it’€™d be a blessing.”

Having a brother around who has been through the pre-draft process — as well as a few seasons in the league — can be a real benefit.

“I’€™ve been very fortunate as to always to have an older brother at the level I was trying to get to,”€ he said. “€œWhen I was in high school, he was already in college, and now, the situation here. Just to have that insight, and to understand the ins and outs of certain things that some people might not find out until they’€™re actually in the NFL, it’€™s definitely a blessing.

“I think the biggest thing is that nothing’€™s personal. That you [have to] understand you’€™re not here to go to school. This is a business, and there’€™s a change of mindset that comes with that.”

Brock, who said he’€™s heard everything from third-round pick to free agent when it comes to his draft status, did acknowledge that he met with the Patriots on Saturday. But it’€™s all been part of a whirlwind schedule as he gets acclimated to the pre-draft process.

“€œIt’€™s been chaos, but it’€™s been such a blessing to even be here in the first place,”€ he said. “Just trying to make the most of it. Obviously, the goal is to impress a couple of people and turn some heads, but at the same time, you have to have fun with it.

“€œI was told how chaotic and fast-paced it would be, but I never expected this. Drug tests as three in the morning, breakfast and I haven’€™t slept since. But like I said, it’€™s fun. I wouldn’€™t trade it for anything.”

Read More: 2014 combine, Brock Vereen, Chris McDonald, Dan Gronkowski
BC’s Andre Williams would welcome chance to join Patriots 02.22.14 at 9:24 am ET
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Andre Williams ran for 2,177 yards this past year for BC. (AP)

Andre Williams ran for 2,177 yards this past year for BC. (AP)

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.

“€œIt 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.

“€œI think my game is going to have to evolve,” he acknowledged. “œI 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.

“€œI 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.”

Read More: 2014 combine, Andre Williams, Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount
Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Running back 01.30.14 at 5:40 pm ET
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LeGarrette Blount had 772 rushing yards over the course of the 2013 regular season, second-best on the team. (AP)

LeGarrette Blount had 772 rushing yards over the course of the 2013 regular season, second-best on the team. (AP)

With the Patriots done for the year, we’€™ve got an end of the year position-by-position breakdown of where the roster stands. We started with special teams, wide receivers and tight ends. Now, it’€™s the running backs.

Depth chart: Stevan Ridley (178 carries, 773 rushing yards, 4.3 YPC, 7 TDs), LeGarrette Blount (153 carries, 772 rushing yards, 5 YPC, 7 TDs), Shane Vereen (44 carries, 208 rushing yards, 4.7 YPC, 1 rushing TD; 47 catches, 427 receiving yards, 3 TDs), Brandon Bolden (55 carries, 271 rushing yards, 4.9 YPC, 3 TDs; 21 catches, 152 receiving yards), fullback James Develin (4 carries, 10 rushing yards, 2.5 YPC, 1 TD).

Overview: This was a fascinating group to watch over the course of the year. The season started with Ridley as the lead back, but that didn’€™t last a full half before he was benched in the opener against Buffalo in favor of Vereen because of a fumble. Vereen then assumed the lead role — until it was revealed at the end of the Bills game that he suffered a wrist injury and would go on IR-DFR. The Patriots turned back to Ridley, who continued to have ball security issues over the course of the season, so much so that he was benched for a game against the Texans.

But as the season went on, Blount began to emerge as a powerful force, while Vereen and Ridley became complementary parts of the running game. While the running game stalled out in the AFC title contest, the stretch drive effort of Blount — 431 yards in a three-game stretch (two at the end of the regular season and one playoff game) — provided a tremendous lift for the New England offense at a time when it needed it most.

(While the three lead backs got most of the ink, it’€™s important to note that Bolden and Develin also provided a boost, Bolden with some much needed depth protection — particularly in spot duty when Vereen was on the shelf — while Develin and his neck roll were able to do a tremendous job clearing the way for the rest of the backs. Prior to the 2013 season, the Patriots hadn’€™t employed a full-time fullback since Heath Evans in 2008, but Develin’€™s work and dependability likely mean he’€™ll be back again in 2014.)

It remains to be seen what this group will look like in 2014. Can Vereen emerge as a healthy and consistent offensive threat? Can Ridley get over whatever ball security issues dogged him over the course of the 2013 campaign and return to full-time, lead-back status? And how deep will the Patriots reach into their own pockets to bring back Blount, who will hit the free agent market as one of the most intriguing prospects on the radar screen? Regardless, figure on the running back position to be one of the strengths of the offense heading into the 2014 season.
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Read More: Brandon Bolden, James Develin, LeGarrette Blount, position-by-position breakdown
In Patriots passing game, big targets don’t always equal big success 01.22.14 at 1:53 pm ET
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Aaron Dobson

Aaron Dobson

In the wake of Sunday’s playoff loss to the Broncos, one of the more common complaints regarding the state of the Patriots passing game was the fact that New England was lacking big targets. With only Julian Edelman (5-foot-10) and Shane Vereen (5-8) emerging as dependable targets for the Patriots — while the Broncos were having success with big targets like Demaryius Thomas (6-3) and Julius Thomas (6-5) — the contrast was especially jarring.

When it comes to the need for bigger receivers, it’s something we’ve heard several times over the last year, especially since Rob Gronkowski went down with a season-ending knee injury in December. However, it’s important to remember that the Patriots have tried to go big at the skill positions in the past. In the offseason, the Patriots went out and signed Mike Jenkins (6-4), Donald Jones (6-0), LaVelle Hawkins (5-11) and Danny Amendola (5-11). In addition, they added rookies like Aaron Dobson (6-3), Mark Harrison (6-3), Kenbrell Thompkins (6-0) and Josh Boyce (5-11). The addition of so much height was in direct contrast to the fact that they lost Wes Welker (5-9) and Deion Branch (5-9), as well as running back Danny Woodhead (5-8).

For what it’s worth, in the Patriots passing game size doesn’t always equate to success. The two greatest receivers of the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era — Welker and Troy Brown — were undersized targets who made a habit of being great route-runners who knew exactly what the quarterback needed. Branch also shared an uncanny bond with Brady, and Edelman’s 105-catch season in 2013 came as the result of the receiver developing a bond with Brady and showing his dependability over the course of a 16-game season. (And conversely, some of the bigger receivers the Patriots have acquired over the last dozen or so years — Donald Hayes, Chad Jackson and P.K. Sam, all of whom were 6-foot-1 or taller — flamed out, sometimes in spectacular fashion.)

Ultimately, the return of the 6-foot-5 Gronkowski and the continued maturation of Dobson and the rest of the young pass catchers should provide the Patriots with some sizable targets in the passing game come 2014. But as Edelman showed in 2013 — as well as Brown and Welker before him — when it comes to finding success as a pass-catcher in the New England system, size isn’t everything.

Read More: Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Shane Vereen
Tom Brady on D&C: ‘It would be as satisfying a victory as we’ve ever had to go to Denver and win this game’ 01.13.14 at 10:27 am ET
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Tom Brady has led the Patriots to the AFC championship game for the third consecutive year. (AP)

Tom Brady has led the Patriots to the AFC championship game for the third consecutive year. (AP)

With the Patriots and Broncos set for an AFC championship game matchup Sunday, quarterback Tom Brady made his weekly appearance on Dennis & Callahan to preview the game and recap Saturday night’s victory over the Colts. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

The Patriots relied on a strong ground game to defeat the Colts, rushing for 234 yards and six touchdowns.

“That’s been one of our strengths here for the last six weeks, is our ability to run it,” Brady said. “I think our offensive line, the way they’ve played down the stretch has been incredible. And certainly with LeGarrette [Blount], Stevan [Ridley] and Shane [Vereen] and what they’ve done, it’s been really just huge for our team. That’s going to be a part of every game plan, and then when we got out there and we started to really become more efficient in the running game we just kept running it and running it. Then you get those big long runs where LeGarrette broke out and ran for whatever, 70-plus yards.

“It’s been just a great thing for us, to be able to control the tempo of the game. To really be a physical football team is what coach [Bill] Belichick has talked about all year. That’s really come out here really since Thanksgiving.”

Added Brady: “Over the last month we’ve been exceptional in our efficiency. All of the backs are running hard. Like I said, it starts with the offensive line and what they’ve been able to do and what they’ve been able to contribute. I know how satisfying it is for them. When you talk about rushing stats at the end of the year and where our team stands, it’s very gratifying when you’re able to run the ball like we’ve run it. Like I said, the backs do a great job finding the hole and finding what’s there, they’re running really hard, they break tackles. But the offensive line gets those guys started. They deserve so much credit.”

With the emphasis on the running game, the offensive lineman have had a chance to go on the offensive.

“It’s nice to be, for an offensive lineman, for you to be able to be aggressive,” Brady said. “Rather than, when you pass it all day, you’re really just trying to defend the spot. As a run blocker you can really enforce your will upon the other team. That’s where the basic fundamentals of football will never change: You’ve got to be able to stop the run; you’ve got to be able to run the football. Those things don’t ever change. That’s how you get to this point in the year. You’ve got to be able to win different ways, and certainly the way we’ve been able to win for a while now has been critical to our success.”

The Patriots rallied to defeat the Broncos, 34-31, in overtime on Nov. 24, but Brady put little emphasis on that game.

“There’s nothing that’s happened in the past that’s going to help us try to win this game on Sunday,” Brady said. “This game is going to come down to who plays the best. We’ll be able to take some things from the game we played and study them and prepare for them. But we’ll have different things to do, they’ll have different things to do. Their team is different than from when they played us, and we’re pretty different from when we played them.

“We’ll get our preparation going this morning and try to put together a great game plan and prepare as hard as we can, and then go out there and you let it rip. I’m excited. It’s everything you could ask for as an athlete. We’ve got a great opportunity ahead of us. It would be as satisfying a victory as we’ve ever had to go to Denver and win this game.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, LeGarrette Blount, Peyton Manning, Sam Berns
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