Now that Free Agency Frenzy is out of the way, the dust is beginning to settle down a little, and now everyone should be on the practise field barring injury! So I think it’s a good time to start discussing the key battles going on throughout the Patriot’s roster. One of the more intriguing battles, in my eyes, is the fifth running back spot. I think it’s safe to say the Patriots are going to carry at least four through, but feel that they need to take a fifth also. But which one? For me, that battle comes down to Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk!

Why five running backs? When you look at the collective experience of the first 4 I am going to talk about, you really need that veteran experience in there. Naturally, the first guy is Benjarvus Green-Ellis; he produced the Patriots’ first 1, 000 yard rushing season since Corey Dillon managed the feat back in 2004. Secondly, Danny Woodhead should be a lock to make the roster again this season. He surprised most last year after people believed him to have been picked up purely for information on the Jets; then Faulk tore his ACL and the rest is history. Danny Woodhead became a prominent feature in the Patriots’ offense most notably in 3rd down situations; Faulk’s bread and butter! The perfect replacement!

Stevan Ridley, the Pats’ 3rd round draft choice, had been getting significant repetitions in training camp due to the absence of Morris, Faulk and Green-Ellis and, from what reports have said, he has made the most of them. He is a north-south runner, who carries the ball through the tackles well and lowers his shoulder, falling forward into the tackle; his size helps him considerably. These intangibles could see him share the load of early down carries with Green-Ellis. Ridley has also shown promise in the passing game, despite scouting reports suggesting he could have little effect there; if he can establish himself as a dual-threat back, his career with the team could be even more intriguing and he could really push Green-Ellis for the bulk of the carries!

Shane Vereen, the first of the two picks, was taken in the 2nd round. This is the guy many see as our long-term future 3rd down back. He lacks size and speed to be an every down back, but possesses very good route running and catching ability. He has been absent from practises however for the last couple of days with what appears to be hamstring problems. If he can shake these off and stay healthy, the role could very well be his to compete for!

If Vereen doesn’t stay healthy and/or compete for the 3rd down back job, I fully expect Woodhead to retain the same role he did last year. However, if all 4 stay healthy and compete, I expect Woodhead to take a bit more of a back seat. What he will always do however is create mismatch nightmares with his speed and ability, so he will remain a prominent force in the Patriots’ offense. I would think Bill Belichick would like to design plays around him, very much like he did last season.

So that’s four of the five spots filled and it comes down to Morris and Faulk for the final one! This will all depend on how camp plays out however, controversially, I think Morris stands a better chance than Faulk.  The Pats now have two viable replacements for Faulk, who is coming off of an ACL tear very late in his successful career! Woodhead and/or Vereen will fit into his slot more than adequately. Morris is a little more versatile and has the ability to be a goal line back and even a Full Back in short yardage situations. On top of this, Morris was responsible for an vast amount of huge blocks on special teams. His contributions there were valuable in the team’s early successes in kick returns during the 2010 season (his block against the Dolphins stands out the most)!

Therefore, in summary, I believe that the Patriots need to take a fifth Running Back as a veteran presence. Although Faulk was a team captain prior to his injury last season, I feel that the team has plenty of leaders within to fill the void as younger players get older, more experienced and lead by example. Therefore, due to Morris’ superior versatility, I feel we should go with him in that fifth spot. There comes a point in time when you must move past a player, and now is that time for Kevin Faulk. I really hope he isn’t cut and is allowed to retire a Patriot. We will have to wait and see how this all pans out over the course of Pre Season!

If you like what you have read in this article or on any of my blog entries, and wish to debate any of the points that I have made, feel free to comment or leave feedback on my twitter account; @DamoJarrett.

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