New England Patriots kick-off returner and backup running back Leon Washington was inactive for the first week of the regular season after being signed prior to the game, and it was interesting to see that Washington was inactive. Signing him before Monday meant that the Patriots would have to guarantee his pay, but the move looks good now that Shane Vereen will reportedly be out for at least four weeks with a broken bone in his left wrist. Leon Washington has the hands to fill in Vereen’s role as a third-down back, and he’s in line for some snaps while Vereen is on the shelf.
ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss wrote that Brandon Bolden would be the best candidate to replace Vereen’s role as a pass-catching and third-down back, but I don’t see it. Bolden is more of a Stevan Ridley kind of rusher than a Shane Vereen-type back, because Bolden isn’t really much of a pass-catcher and mainly does his work rushing between the tackles. I could easily see Bolden being a workhorse back if that opportunity presented itself, because his running style is similar to Ridley’s. Although Bolden’s status isn’t clear after he missed Sunday’s game with a knee injury, I would expect him to play in Week 2 or 3.
Reiss adds that he thinks Leon Washington is the “next man up” due to Bolden’s injury, and I completely agree with the notion that Washington can do some of the stuff Vereen does in the short-term. While Washington isn’t nearly as good or as explosive as Vereen, he is more than adept at catching passes out of the backfield and clearly has speed to burn.
Stevan Ridley was benched on Sunday after that back-breaking, second fumble, but I still have confidence in Ridley’s ability to be the feature back. The fumble problems are the same as they were last year, and they are pretty overstated. Some of us are spoiled after watching BenJarvus Green-Ellis never fumble, and it’s just a simple fact that a guy who had 290 carries last season will fumble more frequently than players who maybe carry the ball 50 times less. Ridley has some issues holding onto the football, but his ability more than makes up for it. I mean, the good easily surpasses the bad here.
It’s clear that Ridley still needs to improve in that part of the game, but there is no way anybody (not even Bolden or LeGarrette Blount) starts over him with Shane Vereen out. There is no running back controversy against the New York Jets. The Boston Globe’s Shalise Manza Young, though, did write that “it remains to be seen” if Ridley will get his carries back. I’m sure he will, and Young also may have indicated that she believes Ridley will assume his role as the No. 1 back by writing that the team “may have little choice” but to play Ridley. I say that he’s clearly the starter.