The Patriots backfield has long been considered more of a committee rather than a one-man show. With multiple players filling a variety of roles, the perception is Ivan Fears' group is comprised of interchangeable parts with similar abilities.
Do not put Fears in that category.
"Everybody sees these guys as the same," Fears began when asked about the depth of the group. "Yeah they're all pretty close to the same and that's fine. But still somebody's got to handle each one of those roles that we have in the game. Somebody's got to play big for us. We have enough guys who can play finesse football. Somebody's got to play power football for us so we have to find out who's going to do that.
"I think a lot of those guys are capable of that. Freakin James White ran the power offense when he was at Wisconsin so, what are we talking about? But he's got to do it for us here. Not just him, but whether it's Mike [Gillislee], whether it's Rex [Burkhead] or Brandon Bolden … somebody's got to step up and be the big back when we need one and all those roles that come up in the game we have to find somebody to fit those roles, and I think we will."
Make no mistake: Fears doesn't care how his backs choose to get the job done. The long-time running backs coach has ably succeeded with workhorses like Antowain Smith, Corey Dillon and LeGarrette Blount while also making ends meet with scatback types such as Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead and Dion Lewis.
On the surface it would appear his current crop is littered with versatile performers with a vast experience catching the ball. White, Lewis and Burkhead fall into that category and Gillislee is a capable receiver as well. But Fears isn't concerned with how his backs are utilized as long as they're productive.
"Whatever it takes. I don't care how you put it. If it takes a bunch of receivers to win that's what it's going to be. I don't give a … put it that way. The only thing that matters is when it's all said and done you give me the next ring and we're off and going. You can talk about whether we run the ball or not," Fears said.
One guy the affable coach is eager to see get started during camp is Gillislee. The restricted free agent signee was limited during the spring and his coach is anxious to see him working in full pads at full strength this summer.
"Yes. Yes. Yes. We've been waiting. No doubt about it. This is a very exciting moment for us," Fears said enthusiastically. "We're going to be in pads going against people and we're going to see exactly what we got. A lot of those guys we think we got something but you never know until they do it. I can't do it for them. They have to do it. We'll see what happens when they do."
With camp opening on Thursday, we'll soon get to see how it all unfolds.