We know the Patriots will have their fourth different leading rusher in the past six seasons. Who that back will be and how carries and receptions will be divvied up is another story.
After letting BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the offense’s primary back the past two seasons, walk in free agency and sign with the Bengals, early signs pointed to second-year back Stevan Ridley getting a heavy workload for 2012. As a rookie, he led the team with five rushes of 20 yards or longer. Ridley is likely to be the No. 1 back, but he might not get the lion's share of work that "The Law Firm" received.
We didn’t get to see much of Shane Vereen last season because of injuries, but a full offseason appears to have been a positive for Vereen, who has carried over his strong spring performance into training camp. Vereen’s ability as a receiver — one source indicated that Vereen has established a nice chemistry with Tom Brady — could allow him to be part of the Pats’ screen game, a wrinkle we might see more of in 2012.
The way we hear it, one of the noticeable differences of having Josh McDaniels back as offensive coordinator has been an emphasis on practicing screen passes. In the PFW 2011 Draft Preview, Nolan Nawrocki wrote that Vereen was a “very effective receiver — can split out and has soft hands.” When asked about the screen plays last week, Vereen told reporters, “I enjoy anytime the coaches can get the ball in my hands and anything I can do for the team.”
With talk focused this summer on Ridley and Vereen, Danny Woodhead has become a forgotten back. While he is expected to still be a change-of-pace option, especially in the second half, Vereen might cut into Woodhead’s snaps as a receiving back. Woodhead led Patriots backs with 18 catches in ’11 and 34 in ’10, but the offense could look to get Kevin Faulk-type production from a back as a receiver, such as Vereen, especially if the screen game will be a bigger focal point. From 2000-09, Faulk had 40.6 receptions per season. Woodhead still might get the snaps if the team is in a hurry-up or late-game situation.
Another back who might be in the fold is undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden, who has received a lot of praise from observers, although one cautioned that the Ole Miss product has had rookie hiccups. Director of player personnel Nick Caserio had this to offer to reporters on Monday about the 5-11, 220-pound Bolden: “Had some injuries a little bit his senior year, but he was a productive player: big, strong, caught the ball well, a good runner.”
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