Last season the Patriots showcased a more versatile offense. The run game picked up speed and finally found ground to stand on. It made a difference because instead of just relying on Tom Brady and his arm, the Pats were able to throw defenses for a loop with solid running plays. But now with the offseason trade of Danny Woodhead to the San Diego Chargers, the question becomes, who will pick up the slack?
Last season, Woodhead accounted for more pass plays than Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen with 40 and he ranked second to Ridley with 76 rushes. He also scored four rushing and three receiving touchdowns and proved himself to be valuable on third down conversions. Overall on third downs he had 15 attempts for 61 yards, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Meanwhile Vereen was only used four times on third down opportunities.
Will this be the year Shane Vereen steps up for the Patriots? (FILE:USPresswire)
Woodhead was the consistent second back when Ridley needed a break. His versatility and ability to weave and bob between defenders made him tough to stop. The guy showed he was tough as nails, instantly popping up after some vicious hits. His absence will definitely be noticed this season as the Patriots haven’t exactly filled the void. They traded Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for running back LeGarrette Blount, who is entering his fourth year in the league. This was a smart and low risk move by the Patriots. Demps’s focus is clearly elsewhere and Blount is taking a pay cut to come to the team. His cap hit will be $630,000 which is the league-minimum for a fourth year pro. Yet again we are witness to Bill Belichick working a deal in his favor.
How Blount will impact the team, though, remains to be seen. Last season in Tampa Bay he only had 41 attempts for 151 yards. He averaged just 3.2 yards per carry and only had 2 touchdowns. This all in just 13 games. Vereen also played in 13 games but managed 62 attempts for 251 yards and 3 touchdowns. I’m not so sure that Blount will be the man to step in to fill Woodhead’s shoes. Granted last year was tough for running backs in Tampa Bay. Remember when Doug Martin came into the picture? He ran for 251 yards and four touchdowns against Oakland in November. From that point on, I think all other Buccaneer running backs became obsolete.
What could happen, and what’s more likely to happen, in New England is Vereen will be the one to step up to the plate. But injuries have plagued him in the past and he has yet to play a full season. He played in just 5 games in 2011 and 13 in 2012. If he really wants to compete with Ridley, he’s going to have to have one heck of a camp. He has a lot of work to do to get his numbers up and prove he can shoulder the load. What would probably work best for him is to use his lackluster first two years as motivation. He has the potential, but potential doesn’t guarantee success. If the Patriots can figure out a way to make him better and keep him healthy, we could see one heck of a running back tandem.
To the Patriots, Woodhead obviously wasn’t a guy they wanted to spend money on to keep. This could very well come back to bite them this season. The offense is evolving but we can’t see exactly how just yet. The draft provided some interesting pieces and if Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez remain healthy, it could turn into a dynamic offensive scheme. But the core to any successful team is balance. The Patriots will need to figure out who they can rely on to back Ridley up and find a way to keep their run game strong.