How Will Patriots Offense Transition from Old Reliable to Sleek New Model?
Two underdog skill position players that have come to define the Patriots offense over the last few seasons have both left the team over the past 48 hours.
Neither wide receiver Wes Welker nor running back Danny Woodhead are the prototype at their respective positions. Their short-area quickness made them nice fits in the offense, but it was their dependability that defined who they are.
They were a known commodity. Their pseudo-replacements, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen, are an unknown.
The Patriots are trading in their Toyota for a Ferrari. Amendola and Vereen are the turbo-charged replacements for Woodhead and Welker. It's a swap of old reliable for slick but at times impractical.
The problem: Ferraris don't drive well on the roads in Massachusetts. Pot holes everywhere.
Welker and Woodhead missed a combined three games to injury over the past three years. They combined for 307 rushing and receiving first downs (out of 1,178) and fumbled the ball just nine times. They were there in big spots, and they were always present and accounted for.
Good little foot soldiers, as one might say.
Vereen and Amendola have been active for a combined 30 games over the past two years, but why?
Amendola's injury concerns are overblown, though, as he missed 15 games after dislocating his elbow in a gruesome freak accident.
That play isn't something that should be a concern for a recurring problem.
Neither is his most noteworthy injury this season: a dislocated clavicle that could have been life-threatening under different circumstances.
The fact that he missed three games with such an injury is a remarkable display of toughness.
What about the rapport with Brady? Part of that "Toyota" analogy bears the comfort one builds with having the same car for a long time.
Welker's reliability actually may have become a hindrance for the offense; was Brady more comfortable taking a four-yard completion to Welker than looking for open receivers downfield? If so, we'll find out rather quickly, as the ball will likely be spread around a bit more, which could be good for the offense overall.
As for Vereen, his injury history is a bit more checkered. He had recurring hamstring problems in 2011, which are sometimes a red flag. A foot injury in the 2012 preseason looked to be foreboding, but he stayed healthy—albeit in a limited role.
If the Patriots are trying to get better on the boundaries, perhaps Vereen could be a part of that evolution.
He did fill in that role in the playoffs against the Texans. He was split out wide, outside the numbers, and ran a simple curl route against man coverage.
His quickness allowed him to create separation, and once he broke the tackle, he was off to the races for a long gain.
Vereen only had 15 receptions combined in the regular season and playoffs, but with 254 yards, he averaged a whopping 16.9 yards per reception. The Patriots are hoping that moving from Woodhead to Vereen will give them a more explosive option to fill the same role.
Amendola was brought in to replace Welker for much the same reason as to why Vereen replaced Woodhead, but factor in his ability to line up both outside and inside in addition to his increased athleticism over his predecessor, and without making a single trade, the Patriots have traded in the old model for a shiny new model.
How long the tread holds up on Vereen and Amendola will be part of what determines whether the Patriots pull up to the big dance in style or if their Ferrari came with a bad engine.
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. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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