The New England Patriots are a team known for throwing it all over the yard. This, in some games, can make the running back position an afterthought. However, with the potentially dynamic group of younger backs the team now possesses, as well as their possible reintroduction of a fullback to the regular-season roster, a running game has a chance to shine through in 2012.
If that is to be the case, though, at least one back needs to emerge into a role larger than he has ever held before in the National Football League. Second-year tailbacks Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were part-time players a year ago (part time being generous for Vereen), while undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden was still at Ole Miss.
Based on what he did last year, one would believe that Ridley should be given the first crack at being the committee's lead back.
Ridley averaged 5.1 yards per carry last season while also adding on all five of the team's rushes over 20 yards all by himself. He brought a burst to the backfield that incumbent starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis lacked while averaging just 3.7 yards per run with a long of just 18 yards.
Some people believe that with two fumbles late last season, Ridley could be a liability with the ball in his hands. To those people I say this: When replacing a running back who had the freakish ability to never put the ball on the ground in any of his touches throughout his first four years in Green-Ellis, any running back is going to look like he has fumblitis in comparison.
Vereen should be the team's back in spread formations and third downs unless he is drastically underwhelming in the preseason to Bill Belichick, but he certainly should not see more total handoffs than Ridley. Vereen may hit some home runs and flash some play-making ability if he sees enough touches, but he is not projected to be an every-down back in the league despite his second-round draft status from a year ago.
Bolden will also have an opportunity to take some snaps behind Tom Brady, assuming of course he makes the team, which at this point seems likely. Bolden has shown good hands and an ability to bounce his runs to the outside thus far in training camp, according to Andy Hart of Patriots Football Weekly. At this point it is too early to project Bolden to have a shot at dethroning Ridley as the team's No. 1 runner.
So Stevan Ridley, the ball is in your court. Or err...your field.