As we enter the second half of June, the Patriots primary stable of backs include Shane Vereen, Steven Ridley, Brandon Bolden and James White. Also included on the roster are two undrafted free agents, Roy Finch and Stephen Houston, along with Jonas Gray.
Vereen, reportedly the favorite to enter the season as the starter, is the most dynamic player of the group. He is a flexible piece to the offense, as he can line up outside the numbers or in the slot as a wide receiver. His talents are best suited for taking handoffs in the forms or draws, counters or tosses. If injuries didn’t derail Vereen’s 2013 season, he would have accounted for most of the snaps in New England’s backfield.
Ridley and Bolden are the grinders. Those two can get the tough yards unlike the other running backs on the roster. Ridley was the starter in 2012, accounting for over 1,200 yards on 290 carries. In 2013, a fumbling issue put Ridley in Head Coach Bill Belichick’s doghouse. His playing time went to now-Pittsburgh Steeler LeGarrette Blount. Bolden, like Ridley, plays hardnosed football. He is reliable when his number is called upon and can make plays when needed. Bolden is a favorite of Belichick.
James White, the rookie from Wisconsin, was one of the Patriot’s surprise draft picks in my mind, but he could do wonders in a limited role. He will play second fiddle to Vereen as the versatile, pass catching running back and could have niche on special teams. White might also be Vereen’s eventual replacement down the line.
The rest of the running backs will have to show something extra if they want a shot at the final roster. Out of final three players, the former Oklahoma Sooner, Roy Finch, has the best shot in my mind. He played in a complicated offense and can offer more than meets the eye. He reportedly has been impressing coaches with his natural pass catching ability and smooth route running.
In my opinion, this is how things will shake out come August:
1a. Shane Vereen
1b. Steven Ridley
2. Brandon Bolden
3. James White