New England Patriots Running Back Breakdown
By Josh Gray
With a supercharged aerial attack, it looks as though Tom Brady will be looking to set after Drew Brees‘ 2011 yardage record, but I still remember the good old days. When Corey Dillon was running roughshod around, over and THROUGH the opposing defense. When the other team had to respect the run and couldn’t sell out on the pass, providing Brady with a play action to attack deep. Subtle signs point at these days returning. The signings of both Spencer Larsen & Tony Fiammetta as primarily blocking full backs would indicate the Patriots could be developing another ground attack. That attack will look to consist of Danny Woodhead, Stevan Ridley, and Shane Vereen. There are other backs on the roster to be sure, but these are the three who will carry the load.
Woodhead was perhaps THE darling of the Patriots 2010 season. Picked up after the Jets released him, Danny immediately became a fan favorite by gashing the opponents defenses up the middle, catching the ball in the flat and playing with a motor that ran at 150%. Though smaller of stature, he played as hard as anyone out there. His greatest asset may be his smaller size. Coupled with his strength, Woodhead has the ability to grab extra yards that can squeeze a larger back out. Sure, you don’t want him pounding it up the middle every play. In fact, you’ll probably see him primarily on third downs, since he has always shown great ability to get the first down yardage.
This will be the guy we lean on the most. Ridley has already proven his ability as both a great change of pace type of back, and a guy that can carry the workload. His explosive speed in the open field helped lead him to average of 5.1 yds per carry in 2011. He’s got breakaway speed, good vision and the strength to break tackles. All the pieces of the puzzle, except one. He had a bit of ‘fumbleitis’ last season. Losing the ball in consecutive playoff games, Ridley was inactive during the AFC Championship game. This issue can be solved with work, but it needs to get solved quickly. There won’t be as much patience this season, as Ridley will be filling the shoes of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a guy KNOWN for protecting the football. Regardless of previous issues, look for #22 to line up the most in the back field.
Here’s the wildcard. Vereen showed great promise, but was severely limited by a hamstring injury that plagued him throughout the Patriots 2012 campaign. Taken BEFORE Ridley in the 2010 NFL Draft, Vereen was the pick expected to take the majority of the carries. Out of Cal, Vereen played behind Jahvid Best for 3 seasons until he got his shot in 2010 where he earned over 1300 all purpose yards and 16 TD’s. The pre-season is where I would expect us to see Vereen take on the workload and see what his durability will be.