Shane Vereen Poised to Redeem Behind-the-Scenes 2011 Campaign

Erik FrenzSenior Writer IAugust 16, 2012

June 12, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen (34) takes questions from reporters after mini camp at the Gillette Stadium practice facility. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE

With 15 carries for 57 yards and a touchdown in just five games, running back Shane Vereen didn't get very many opportunities to live up to the billing as a second-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft.

But if he continues to show improvement, as he has from the first preseason game against the New Orleans Saints and through recent practices, he'll get plenty of opportunities to prove that his record-setting three-year career at California wasn't a fluke and that his skills do indeed translate to the pro game.

And with a scheme that is conducive to his skill set, the likelihood he accomplishes that goal has only increased.

His rookie year was essentially a redshirt year. The lockout cut the offseason program short, and then he injured his hamstring in the preseason and once again toward the end of the season. Those two circumstances combined for a lot of time on the inactive list for Vereen, and as a result, he still feels like a rookie at times.

"Yes and no," said Vereen after the preseason opener, via "Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. I mean, we have a pretty young stable of backs right now, so I think [running back Danny Woodhead] is kind of like the vet of the group. He does the best he can to keep us informed so we don't feel so much like rookies, but every now and then, stuff comes up we haven't handled before, and you tend to feel a little like a rookie."

But he isn't taking his time away from the field lightly and knows that there are some areas in which he can improve.

"All of them," said Vereen, according to the team's official website. "I missed a lot of time last year, so I need to improve in a lot of areas."

That improvement was evident on Friday night against the Saints, with Vereen picking his hole and going all in time after time, while finding the perimeter on a few other runs and even catching a few screen passes out of the backfield.

That improvement came against second- and third-team defensemen, but Vereen got an opportunity to show what he can do against some top-end talent in practice as a result:

Vereen saw a dramatic uptick in overall reps and with the first team

— Greg A. Bedard (@GregABedard) August 15, 2012

The team has moved into the post-Kevin Faulk era, and Vereen seems like the perfect back to fill that void going forward.

Faulk was once an integral part of the Patriots offense, but the Patriots have understood life without him for a while, as he battled injuries toward the end of his career.

But they have yet to find his replacement in that role.

Danny Woodhead had some success as a pseudo-Faulk in 2010 but tailed off a bit last year. He has just the kind of skill set that would fit perfectly into that role.

But Vereen shares that skill set and, thus, shares a desire to earn that role.

There's a place for a back like Vereen in the Patriots offense. Under offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the team figures to run far more screen plays than it has in recent years. They Patriots have run a lot of screen drills in practice, with the linemen getting out front of the back and running upfield as a unit.

When Vereen was asked about how the screen plays fit into his game, he said: "I think it fits into the offense, as well. We've got to be able to do multiple things as an offense, and we've got to do them well."

Good blocking is key to a good screen play, but so is having an explosive back like Vereen who can make the most out of open space in front of him.

It looks like there's open space in front of Vereen, but he has to capitalize with consistency in practice and in preseason games in order to make the most of his opportunity.


Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates.