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Resetting Patriots depth chart: Running back 04.14.15 at 8:05 am ET
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Jonas Gray could have a bigger workload in 2015. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Jonas Gray could have a bigger workload in 2015. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

With the majority of free agency completed and the draft looming, we’re going to take a look at the Patriots depth chart by position, and try and assess the level of need going forward. We started with special teams, tight end and wide receiver. Now, it’s running back:

Current depth chart: LeGarrette Blount (60 carries, 281 yards, 3 TDs), Jonas Gray (89 carries, 412 yards, 5 TDs), Brandon Bolden (28 carries, 89 yards, 1 TD), Travaris Cadet, James White (9 carries, 38 yards), Dion Lewis, James Develin (3 carries, 5 yards), Tyler Gaffney (ended season on injured reserve).

Lost in free agency: Stevan Ridley (94 carries, 340 yards, 2 TDs) signed with the Jets, Shane Vereen (96 carries, 391 rushing yards, 2 TDs; 52 catches, 447 receiving yards, 3 TDs) signed with the Giants.

Gained in free agency: Cadet (10 carries, 32 yards; 31 catches, 51 targets, 296 yards, 1 TD for the Saints last year), Lewis (no stats last year with the Browns, but his best season came in 2011 with the Eagles when he had 23 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown).

Other changes: There’s been plenty of turnover at the position this offseason for New England, as the Patriots have lost 43 percent of their carries from 2014 with the departures of Ridley and Vereen. But that’s pretty much par for the course when it comes to the Patriots and the running back position: over the last 10 years, six different backs have led New England in rushing yards. (In that span, only the Cardinals, Browns and Saints have had more different backs lead their team in rushing than the Patriots.) One other note as it relates to change in the New England backfield: Tyler Gaffney was swiped off waivers from the Panthers last summer and stashed on injured reserve because of a knee injury. The former Stanford product bears watching for a few reasons throughout the spring workouts for a few reasons, including the fact that the 6-foot-1, 221-pounder rushed for 1,709 yards on 330 carries as a senior in college in 2013. (He also had 27 catches out of the backfield in his final two years at Stanford.) Given those numbers, it’s reasonable to think that he’ll at least be a part of the conversation when it comes to the position this summer.

Is this an area of need going into the draft? Not on the surface, but there is some pre-draft talk that if one of the two backs considered to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field (Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley) are available at No. 32, the Patriots would be inclined to go after them at the end of the first round. It certainly would be out of character for New England, as Bill Belichick has taken a running back just once in the first round (Laurence Maroney, 2006). If they don’t go for a back at the end of the first round, look for them to pick up at least one somewhere along the way, even as a camp body or two via the undrafted/rookie free agent route to help fill out the roster.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Dion Lewis, James White, Jonas Gray
Next back up: Departure of Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen this offseason underscores Patriots approach at running back 04.09.15 at 12:04 am ET
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LeGarrette Blount could be the seventh different back in 11 seasons to lead the Patriots in rushing yardage in 2015. (Getty Images)

LeGarrette Blount could be the seventh different back in 11 seasons to lead the Patriots in rushing yardage in 2015. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

While not wholly unexpected, the Patriots’ decision Wednesday to let Stevan Ridley walk to a divisional rival in free agency is the sort of personnel move that simply underscores the franchise philosophy when it comes to running backs: plug-and-play.

Regardless of Ridley’s injury history, the idea that the Patriots let a 26-year-old running back with a 1,200-yard season on his resume walk out the door without hesitation underscores the fact that, simply put, no team is more comfortable with change in the backfield than the New England. In all, with Shane Vereen (96 carries) and Ridley (94 carries) both departing this offseason as free agents, the Patriots will lose 43 percent of their carries from the 2014 regular season. In this day and age, those are the sort of numbers that would cripple most offenses. For New England? It’s business as usual.

Some of New England’s attitude can be traced back to the fact that when you have a two-time MVP under center, you can afford to cycle through skill position players, especially in an era where running backs have been devalued. The Patriots have also been excellent at identifying relatively under-the-radar types like Jonas Gray and Danny Woodhead and finding specific areas where they could excel while in New England.

But still, when stacked against the rest of the league, the turnover at the position really stands out. Over the last 10 seasons, six different backs (Gray, Ridley, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris and Corey Dillon) have led the Patriots in rushing yards — in that span, only the Cardinals, Browns and Saints have had more different backs lead their team in rushing than the Patriots.

Of course, it’s not just the idea of change. New England is different than most when it comes to the running back position. In 2014, for example, the Patriots became the first Super Bowl champion since the 1987 Redskins to finish the regular season with 40 backs with 40 or more carries. According to Elias, New England became the first team to reach the Super Bowl without having a player with 100 rush attempts that season. And in his 20 years as a head coach, Bill Belichick has never had a running back go for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. (The closest? Antowain Smith, who rushed for 2,781 yards in his three seasons with the Patriots, including 1,157 in 2001 and 982 in 2002.)

Currently, the senior member of the New England backfield — in terms of time in the system — is 25-year-old Brandon Bolden, who has played a grand total of 38 regular-season games with the Patriots. LeGarrette Blount (21 games with New England), Gray (8) and James White (3) round out the current backs on the roster who have accrued any sort of playing time while in New England.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Brandon Bolden, Dion Lewis, Ivan Fears
League outlaws Patriots unbalanced line approach that New England used against Ravens 03.25.15 at 1:59 pm ET
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John Harbaugh and the Ravens are likely pretty happy after hearing that the unbalanced line the Patriots used in the playoffs is now illegal. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

John Harbaugh and the Ravens are likely pretty happy after hearing that the unbalanced line the Patriots used in the playoffs is now illegal. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The eligible receiver/ unbalanced line tactics the Patriots utilized in the AFC divisional playoff game agains the Ravens have now been ruled illegal. The league announced Wednesday that they have passed a proposal to make it  “illegal for an offensive player with an eligible number to report as ineligible and line up outside the core of the formation.”

The genesis of the rule change came from the postseason contest between New England and Baltimore when Patriots ran a handful of plays using four offensive linemen and a running back (Shane Vereen) or tight end (Michael Hoomanawanui) lined up as the tackle. Before the plays, the Patriots informed the referee of the ineligible player, and on at least one occasion, the referee announced to the crowd that No. 34 (Vereen) was ineligible, adding “don’t cover (Vereen).”

The Ravens were clearly steamed at the legal sequence after the game. Ravens coach John Harbaugh called it “deception,” and took issue with the idea that “they don’t give you the chance to make the proper substations and things like that.”

He added: “We wanted an opportunity to be able to ID who the eligible players were. What (the Patriots) were doing was they announce the ineligible player and then Tom [Brady] would take them to the line right away and snap the ball before we had a chance to figure out who was lined up where. That was the deception part of it. It was clearly deception.”

In the midst of the confusion, the Patriots were able to capitalize — on three plays, New England hit on pass plays of 16, 11 and 14 yards. While it wasn’t the biggest turning point in the game, it was clear that it contributed to the normally unflappable Ravens coming unglued, as Baltimore twice choked up 14-point leads on the way to the Patriots win.

After the game, Brady was asked about the play.

“Maybe those guys (should) study the rule book and figure it out,” said the quarterback with a smile.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh, New England Patriots
RB Shane Vereen takes to Twitter to thank Patriots fans and clarify ‘step up’ statement 03.12.15 at 1:48 pm ET
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After taking some heat Wednesday night when he said going from the Patriots to the Giants represented a “step up,” running back Shane Vereen took to Twitter Thursday to clarify his statements, say farewell to New England fans, and express his thanks for the support he received in his four years with the Patriots.

Read More: NFL free agency 2015, Shane Vereen,
Shane Vereen: Giants are ‘a step up’ from Patriots 03.11.15 at 10:51 pm ET
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After spending the first four years of his career in New England, running back Shane Vereen signed with the Giants on the first day of free agency on Tuesday.

Vereen did have an interesting quote in a video on the team’s website announcing his signing — a three-year, $12.35 million contract.

“[I made this] decision with my family,” Vereen said. “At the end of the day, I wanted to make a decision that was right for us, right for them, and this is a great organization. I was fortunate enough to play in New England with another great organization. This is not a step down; if anything, it is a step up. I am looking forward to the opportunity, and I am enjoying being in New York.”

The Patriots will face the Giants at MetLife Stadium this year, so Vereen could have provided his former team with some bulletin board material.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Read More: NFL free agency 2015, Shane Vereen,
Report: RB Shane Vereen set to sign with Giants 03.10.15 at 1:04 pm ET
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The Giants are set to sign running back Shane Vereen, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media.

Vereen, 26, has spent four seasons in the NFL, all with the Patriots. The 5-foot-10, 200-pounder, a second-round pick out of Cal in 2011, has 217 carries for 907 yards and 159 catches for 1,023 yards in his time as a pro. This past year, he was one of only five backs to finish with at least 50 catches and 50 carries, and capped off the year with 11 receptions in the Super Bowl, setting a mark for most catches in a Super Bowl by a running back.

The Patriots have already started planning for life after Vereen ‘€” according to as league source, they expressed an interest in Roy Helu during the legal tampering period over the weekend. They also have youngster James White under contract for 2015, a fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin last year who has shown an ability to work as a third-down back while as a collegian.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Read More: NFL free agency 2015, Shane Vereen,
Report: Giants have ‘very serious’ interest in Shane Vereen at 7:26 am ET
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The Patriots are expected to have two free agent running backs by the time 4 p.m. rolls around Tuesday afternoon, and it appears at least one of them is already getting “very serious” interest.

According to the New York Daily News, the Giants have “very serious” interest in running back Shane Vereen. The report added it was possible a deal could get done soon after the market opens at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Vereen has played four seasons in the league, all with the Patriots, after the team selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft. Known for his pass catching ability out of the backfield, Vereen has caught 107 passes for 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns over the course of his career, while adding seven rushing touchdowns.

The Patriots currently have LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, James White and Tyler Gaffney as running backs already signed to the roster. Stevan Ridley is also set to become a free agent as well.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Read More: New York Giants, NFL free agency 2015, Shane Vereen,

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