Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
The New England Patriots' starting running back might not have been a debate had Stevan Ridley not fumbled away the role a year ago—or had year-end starter LeGarrette Blount not signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now, we will see if Ridley gets a chance to win it back.
New England Patriots RB Depth Chart
- Shane Vereen
- Brandon Bolden
- James White
You have to expect the Patriots' "passing back" will be seen as the incumbent starter, ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss expects that, writing Vereen will get the most snaps at the start. Reiss broke down the playing-time percentages of the past two seasons:
Stevan Ridley — 28.2 percent
- Shane Vereen — 24.7 percent
LeGarrette Blount — 24.0 percent
- Brandon Bolden — 21.9 percent
Stevan Ridley — 44.8 percent
- Danny Woodhead — 34.1 percent
- Shane Vereen — 12.7 percent
- Brandon Bolden — 7.5 percent
If Vereen was healthy for all 16 games last year, I think it's safe to say he would have topped the list. The other point is that the way the Patriots play offense, you're usually going to get a pretty even split between the 'big back' and the 'passing back.' Finally, I don't think anything is just going to be handed to Ridley. He'll have to earn it.
Since Ridley is the big back in a Patriots offense that went with Blount more often than not down the stretch, you have to give Ridley a shot at regaining the starting role he lost due to fumbling issues a year ago. Also, Vereen has had a history of health issues.
Ridley told NESN.com's Doug Kyed during OTAs he expects to compete to start:
In this system, always. I'm telling you, I don't say that lightly. I mean, you can go out there and be a starter one game and the next game, you're two or three guys behind. So really none of that matters. It's week in and week out and that's what Coach stresses to us every week that we have to go out there and be competitive as we can be.
He's going to play the matchups game, and we just have to be unselfish enough to go out there and capitalize on the plays that we get. It's not really about competition between the room. I think we just have to push each other to make each the best that we can be.
Ridley told Bleacher Report/Boston.com's Erik Frenz he has grown since losing his starting job last season:
I want to aspire to be a 1,000-yard back every year. And to not reach that, was kind of really a little bit under what I wanted, but it wasn't about my personal goals. ...
Even though you mess up and you're going to be down some days, you just come to work the next day because yesterday is behind you. All you can do is go forward. That's really what I learned through it all.
Brandon Bolden, 24, has value on this roster because of the way coach Bill Belichick likes to rotate his backs, but he will be pushed by fourth-round rookie James White out of Wisconsin. White is not your typical Wisconsin power back. He is more of the undersized shifty type.
Vereen will start, but as long as Ridley gets his ball maintenance in order, he will wind up getting the bulk of the heavy lifting, just as Blount wound up doing down the stretch last season. Bolden backs up Ridley as the big back, while White gets time behind Vereen as the passing back. All of them will play, which will frustrate the heck out of fantasy footballers.