Running Back (6)
(4th season)LeGarrette Blount
(5th season)Shane Vereen
(4th season)Brandon Bolden
(3rd season)James Develin
(2nd season)Sam McGuffie
The Patriots committee approach was perhaps never more evident than late last season when LeGarrette Blount supplanted Stevan Ridley and turned in back-to-back monster performances to lead the offense. Blount rushed for 355 yards in wins over Buffalo (189, season finale) and Indianapolis (166, divisional playoffs), which accounted for about 38 percent of his 944 total yards on the season.
Ridley, meanwhile, suffered through an inconsistent season due mainly to his inability to hold onto the football. He finished with 773 yards rushing (1 more than Blount in the regular season) but also lost four fumbles. In fairness Blount had issues with ball security as well, coughing it up three times and losing two.
Ridley eventually was a healthy scratch following his fourth fumble and was relegated to second-tier status when he returned. His production didn't include the big plays Blount turned in either, and his 4.3-yard average was well below Blount's gaudy 5-yard mark in just 25 fewer carries.
Moving forward Bill Belichick
faces an interesting situation with Blount about to become a free agent. While he wouldn't likely break the bank on the open market, teams are becoming more and more reluctant to sink dollars into the running back position, especially teams with alternatives like New England.
A modest deal should be enough to retain Blount and the feeling is that's the more likely scenario. Teaming him with Ridley while Shane Vereen returns to handle the third-down role would seem to give the Patriots a formidable group in the backfield.
When healthy Vereen offers production as a pass catcher and as the lone back when the Patriots employ their hurry-up attack. He rushed for 208 yards on 44 attempts with 101 of those coming in the opener against Buffalo in which he broke his wrist and missed the following eight games. He also caught 47 passes for 427 yards and three touchdowns. If he can stay on the field Vereen provides the offense with a versatile weapon out of the backfield.
Brandon Bolden has roles on special teams and provides depth in the backfield. If Blount returns he may be expendable but his versatility to play in the kicking game may allow him to stick around for a third season.
James Develin carved out a role for himself at fullback and was solid as both a blocker and short-yardage runner when given the opportunity. The Patriots also have Sam McGuffie
, who has experience at running back and wide receiver, looking to open some eyes during the offseason and into mini-camps and training camp.
Running back doesn't appear to be a huge position of need heading into the new league year. Even if Blount departs via free agency, a veteran could easily be brought in to add to the committee, as could a rookie free agent or two.RELATED LINKS