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From the Hart: Committed to young RB committee?

Posted Jul 26, 2012

The Patriots announced a trio of moves Wednesday afternoon – one day before the start of training camp practices, and the day that healthy veterans reported to Gillette Stadium, got physicals and took their conditioning runs.

Beyond announcing the previously-reported signings of veteran tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and Massachusetts veteran defensive lineman Tim Bulman, New England also parted ways with running back Joseph Addai.

The former Colts 1,000-yard rusher had joined the Patriots on May 10. He was on the field for most of the spring OTA action and mini-camp, sitting out one day with an apparently minor injury. He’s battled injuries in recent years and really hasn’t been all that productive since 2007. In theory he was probably brought in to be the veteran presence in New England backfield that’s quite young at this point.

It’s possible that the team decided that Addai just didn’t have much left in the tank, although the timing of the move would seem to be curious if that was the case. There’s also the chance that Addai wasn’t able to pass the team’s conditioning run to open camp. But there obviously could be a number of other reasons as well.

Now, New England has just four tailbacks on the roster. All are young, relatively unproven. Danny Woodhead is the veteran entering his fifth season. But he’s really only been a "player" for the last two years.

Beyond that is the pair of second-year backs with plenty of potential in Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Ridley showed some spark a year ago as a rookie before his two late season fumbles pushed him back to the bench. Vereen, who had a leg injury last summer, basically had a redshirt rookie year.

Those two could be the top cogs — with Ridley the most likely replacement starter for the departed BenJarvis Green-Ellis – in Josh McDaniels’ backfield committee. A group that once included guys like Kevin Faulk and Fred Taylor, now has little experience to lean on.

The only other option is undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden. Bolden battled a leg injury in his final season at Ole Miss, cutting his production and playing time greatly. He did have 17 touchdowns as a junior and has the ability to catch the ball a bit.

But are McDaniels and Bill Belichick really comfortable going into the season without a veteran running back? Even though the ground attack has been a complementary aspect of New England’s pass-first offense, are they willing to go with such inexperience in the backfield?

The other possibility is that Addai was cut so that another veteran can be brought in. Shortly before signing Addai this spring New England also worked out former Packers free agent Ryan Grant. Like Addai, Grant has had injury issues. Grant is much bigger than Addai and more of a true feature back type. He’s had a pair of 1,200-yard seasons and shown the ability to be a guy who can average 5-plus yards a carry.

Is it possible that Grant was looking for bigger money earlier in the process and has now decided to lower his price to play with the Patriots? After all, if he’s not in Green Bay then New England is probably the next best offense for him to play in.

Other veteran names to bandy about the rumor mill are Faulk, Sammy Morris or Cedric Benson.

Maybe Belichick will just go with the total youth movement in the backfield. Maybe it will be Ridley, Vereen, Woodhead and a couple fullbacks. Maybe. But at this time of year there are still a lot of moving parts on rosters and I won’t be surprised if we see some other veteran running back walk into Gillette at some point.

We’ll see, but isn’t it great to have football back?

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