It feels like every year the New England Patriots add a running back into their backfield rotation. Like every team, there’s always a starting running back; one that is THE GUY to own in fantasy football. But with New England, you just never know who that guy is going to be. You think you know. But you don’t.
The Patriots suffered an unfortunate loss in Week 1 at Buffalo when Shane Vereen was having a career game of 101 yards rushing and seven receptions for 58 yards. If he was in your Week 1 starting lineup, then bravo; you picked the right RB. However, it was a bitter-sweet performance when he broke his wrist causing him to miss the first half of the season.
After that, all attention turned to Steven Ridley who was coming off an incredible 2012 season where he rushed for over 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns. Again, however, he spent time in Bill Belichick’s doghouse after losing three fumbles early in the season.
With Vereen on Injured Reserve and Ridley in the doghouse, the majority of the running back snaps went to LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden. Both were serviceable in their time—had games where they produced enough to crack some starting lineups the following week—but nothing ever stuck; they weren’t reliable enough.
The three running backs that remain on the roster from last year: Vereen, Ridley, Bolden, are all free agents, and there have been no reports of the Patriots talking “extension” with any of them.
New England drafted James White in the fourth round (130th overall) out of the University of Wisconsin. White gets the nickname “Sweet Feet” for his ability to, well, I guess telling you wouldn’t be as good as showing you.
White takes small strides when he runs giving him great balance. Jamal Lewis was another running back who was known for this. Not comparing White and Lewis because White won’t break half as many tackles Lewis did in his career, but their running style is similar. Lewis had short strides which helped him keep his balance and shake off would-be tacklers. White uses his balance to make sudden cuts, separating himself from defenders.
NESN’s Doug Kyed talks about White being a winner in Patriots minicamp :
“White had a noticeable drop in Wednesday’s minicamp practice, but the rookie running back, overall, showed better hands than Shane Vereen this spring. White also appears to be an experienced route runner, and he was known for his pass blocking at Wisconsin. Vereen is the better athlete, however.
Hopes are high for Vereen next season, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see the Patriots give White an equal chance to earn the “starting” third-down back spot in training camp.
The Vereen-White battle is reminiscent of when the Patriots appeared to be “phasing out” a contract-year Wes Welker in favor of Julian Edelman in 2012 before the latter suffered an injury. That’s not to say we saw any sort of phase-out for Vereen this spring, but given his contract scenario, it’s possible that the Patriots approach the position in a similar fashion.”
All reports say White is coming to New England well-polished for a rookie running back. His hands, blocking and attitude have all impressed the Patriots coaching staff.
As of now, it appears Vereen will be the featured back and Ridley will be used as a steady compliment. But with Belichick still trying to replace production he got from his “Joker” position (Aaron Hernandez, Danny Woodhead), White will be given a great opportunity for snaps this season—whether it be at the Joker position or running back. After that, when the three running backs’ contracts expire, it’s all on him to show he can be used as THE GUY for New England.
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