I don’t often spend time on Twitter, and I rarely tweet; but the other day I found myself looking at a tweet by Albert Breer of the NFL Network. He was discussing running backs (if you can “discuss” something in 140 characters) and he made the point that teams (presumably high school and college) are no longer putting their best athletes at that position. This is an interesting observation, and true. Because of spread offenses at the high school and college levels, the best athletes are either throwing the ball, catching the ball, or covering those who are catching the ball. The running back is simply a change of pace player. He is no longer the main focus of the offense.
For the Patriots, their running back group may look a great deal different one year from now than it does now. That is due to the fact that all three of the backs who remain on their current roster from last year (Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden) are free agents after this season.
This is a solid group that needs a fourth member, a bulldozer-type, for short yardage situations. Beyond that, I would re-sign at least Vereen and Ridley. Hopefully, management will not make the same mistake they made letting Danny Woodhead go and replacing him with Leon Washington as if Woodehead was a widget in a machine, rather than a unique, elusive pass catching back who was extremely effective. Washington never quite got his feet on the ground in Foxboro and was gone midway through last season.
Stevan Ridley has the potential to be an elite back. When he gets to the second level of the defense he is as good a back as there is in the league. He has a nose for the goal line and he runs hard. There is, however, the elephant in the room: fumbles. Last year Ridley fumbled four times which really is no that many. Although Ridley only fumbled every 44 carries it’s when he fumbled that was significant. He had fumbles in three straight games (Pittsburgh, Carolina, and Denver). His fumble on Carolina’s 13-yard line ended an early scoring opportunity in a game where every possession counted. And his fumble against Denver, on the first drive, was scooped up by Von Miller for a 60-yard touchdown. This might be forgotten by fans as the Pats mounted an epic comeback and won on Wes Welker’s muff on a punt in overtime, but it was clearly not forgotten by the Patriots coaching staff. Ridley was benched for the Texans’ game the next week. For the rest of the season, Ridley was essentially the third fiddle behind Vereen and Legarrette Blount (now a Steeler).
There was a slightly disturbing blurb in Sunday’s Boston Globe. Apparently, Shane Vereen’s wrist is still not 100%. This is not good news for a pass catching back who was clearly bothered by the wrist in the passing game. How many times last year was Ridley wide open on the little wheel route out of the backfield only to have the ball hit the brace on his wrist and fall harmlessly to the ground. Vereen had an outstanding opener against the Bills, but the wrist injury he suffered in that game slowed his production all year. Vereen is a significant part of the Patriots offense and his health is important. Maybe the new medical staff can fix the wrist before the start of training camp.
Branded Bolden is just a guy (JAG). Possibly, he will elevate his mediocre game in an effort to get a new contract. If that is he case, wonderful. If he remains the same type player next year as he has been in the past, then enjoy bouncing around the NFL working toward qualifying for a pension.
Free Agent still out there they should look at: Michael Bush- Bush is a clone of Blount. Bush is a big back who has potential to go off any week and who can knows how to get the ball across the goal line. Like Blount, he doesn’t have a great deal of wear as his carries have been limited the past two years in Chicago. He is two years removed form a 977 yard season with seven touchdowns. As the third back, he would be a strong veteran presence.
Running Back they might draft: Damien Williams, Oklahoma Williams is a strong, fast back who can catch the ball and who will be a great “value” pick. Williams was dismissed form the Sooners squad last November for “violating team rules.” Since Williams was allowed to come back to OU’s campus for their Pro Day, I am assuming that his transgressions were not that severe. He will be a steal for whoever drafts him.