And now, quiet time.
The NFL is a year-round sport? Not quite. Despite the best efforts by league personnel, and from all 32 teams around the league, no one has yet figured out how to make the National Football League a truly year-round endeavor.
Whether you want to call it summer vacation, down-time, or just a simple step away from the passion and emotion that rock us all during the regular season, the next five weeks before opening training camps are the quietest period of the calendar year for the NFL. Sure, there will be a story or two popping up to captivate us (like Tom Brady's hearing & the commissioner's subsequent decision), but for the most part our lives will be bereft of pro football.
Ok, maybe not entirely. We'll take some time over these next few weeks to look ahead within the Patriots' roster, feature some areas of the team that will be heavily counted upon in the next season, and present a few of the individuals who will have Opportunity with a capital "O" presented to them – and how they might take advantage of such a chance.
So for now, enjoy the quiet time. Enjoy the summer, recharge the batteries, and get ready for what should prove to be another great ride throughout the fall. It could be an opportunity for all of us to experience something great, again.
[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="336536"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]Brandon's Bold Steps could provide for Patriots
Look around the NFL. There really are few places where positional makeovers haven't already started to take shape, perhaps with the exception of the kicking game. The running game may be the one spot where every team seems to be affected in one way or another, especially in places like Buffalo, Philadelphia and Dallas.
Let's also put the Patriots in this mix, since the running back roster was shuffled with the departure of both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. LeGarrette Blount returns as potentially the primary option, but he'll miss out on the season opener with a one-game suspension. This leaves a huge opportunity for Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden, James White, James Develin, Travaris Cadet, Tyler Gaffney and Dion Lewis to step into the breach in the competition for playing time.
To an extent, we've seen what Gray can do, thanks to his 2014 performance in the regular season against Indianapolis. Same for Develin in a different role as a primary blocking back or fullback, and even Cadet in a primary pass-catching role during his time with the New Orleans Saints. Bolden is somewhat of an enigma – he's gained some tough yards when called upon in the recent past, but he has largely plied his trade through solid play on special teams.
Can Brandon take a bold step forward, and be a featured back carrying the ball for New England?
"Things change every year," Bolden said as mini-camp came to a conclusion last week. "The coaches do a great job to make sure everybody learns...as a group, these guys are awesome. I'm just doing what the coaches ask of me, to become a better football player in general.
"Whatever they call me to do, I'm just excited to play football," he added. "Reps, no reps, special teams, offense – I just want to play football."
That chance will surely come to pass for Bolden as training camp begins. He has displayed versatility by becoming a 3rd down option in short-yardage situations and also performing well on special teams and kick coverage. But with this "next man up" situation that is presenting itself in the backfield, could he be an option as a 1st and 2nd down player?
"If they want me to do 1st and 2nd downs, I can. If 3rd downs, I can," Bolden said. "I've been doing 4th downs on special teams so I can do that too. Like coach (Belichick) always says, the more you can do, the more you can work at all phases of the game as much as I can, I'm ready to get going."
The key to gaining entrance to more time in the offensive backfield could come from this versatility. After all, no matter who's on the field at quarterback for the season opener, giving him the choice to run the ball or to throw the ball with equal chance for success should increase the chance for overall team success.
Perhaps, the one back that has already shown some mobility in that backfield might mean the makeover doesn't have to be as drastic as once thought? The ability to do several things well sure could present problems for any defense, while giving any running back an opportunity to show he belongs.
"It didn't take long for me to hear it, and believe in that myself," Bolden said. "I'm still here. I'm going to do whatever I can. Whatever they need me to do, that's what I'm doing. With the quarterback we have, you've got to be able to stay on the field (to be productive) at all times."
[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="336541"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]Ranking the Running Backs – Pats get little love
Bolden's boasts notwithstanding, the Patriots aren't exactly setting the NFL ablaze with their overall prospects at the running back position as training camp appears on the horizon.
NFL.com recently ranked the position from teams 1 to 32, and New England managed no better than placing 29th on the list. One NFL position coach said he'd put the Pats' group of backs in the 25 to 30 range of the rankings because of "too many unproven players."
It's a fair assessment of how things stand at the present time, if not a bit presumptuous. Things can, and do, change on almost every snap of the ball. Blount has turned in some big games with his ability to break past the line of scrimmage with a strong north-south running style. But can he be relied upon for the duration of a 16-game season? For that matter, can any running back outside of Adrian Peterson, DeMarco Murray or Marshawn Lynch really be relied upon?
The key to success for this season, or any season for that matter, will come from backfield versatility – as Bolden adamantly insists. Injuries are the games' great equalizer, and the teams that show the ability to succeed with different styles, different abilities and with the "next man up" when injury invariably occurs should be the teams toward the top of the standings.
Numbers don't lie. Ten of the 12 weakest rushing teams from last season failed to make the playoffs. True, having a franchise QB or all-pro offensive linemen in front always add to the equation, but having depth – and versatility – in the backfield should help keep offensive problems to a minimum, and help maximize offensive production.
Which should help keep a team in contention for the ultimate prize, shouldn't it?
*John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and is beginning his 23rd year as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities – which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio – Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 27 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. *
Follow him on Twitter - @JRbroadcaster