By: Ian Logue
When you’re a 35 year-old NFL runningback coming off of a major knee injury, the odds are already stacked against you.
Things already hurt a little more and take longer to recover from, even before a surgery. Your body doesn’t move quite as fast as it did when you were in your 20’s, and in the NFL every year each team brings in a ton of guys in that age bracket to compete against you to take your job.
Fortunately for someone like Kevin Faulk, his reputation precedes him, and that’s likely the reason why his days of stepping onto the gridiron wearing #33 are probably not yet behind him.
Faulk could potentially get one final hurrah here in New England this season. (FILE:Icon/SMI)
Faulk – who is the last holdout from the pre-Bill Belichick days – found himself placed on the PUP list this weekend to start the regular season. He’s been suiting up in Foxboro for over 12 years, been a part of 3 championship seasons, and has earned the respect of everyone in the locker room, as well as the guy who made the decision to keep him around a little longer.
Heading into the season, the Patriots surprisingly find themselves with a plethora of young talent at the runningback position. Likely recognizing that Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor, and Faulk were close to seeing the curtain close on their NFL careers, Belichick went out and drafted Shane Vereen in the 2nd Round and Stevan Ridley in the 3rd this past April. Neither were able to get the necessary work in during minicamps thanks to the lockout, but Ridley has shown moments of brilliance this preseason – including a 111-yard all purpose yard and 3 touchdown performance against Jacksonville.
Unfortunately for Vereen, he’s been merely a spectator for most of it and had been sidelined since August 3rd up until recently with a hamstring injury. He finished with 11 carries for 34 yards in Thursday night’s loss.
Last year’s incumbent BenJarvus Green-Ellis is coming off of a 1,000+ yard performance and has run fairly well this preseason. The only real question seems to be which guys – other than Danny Woodhead – they’ll use behind him as “role players” for certain situational needs.
Up until last season, that had been Faulk. His injury in Week 2 – like others before him – opened up an opportunity for Woodhead to make a name for himself here in New England. Unfortunately for Faulk, it added a little pressure to a spot that had never before really been in question.
Like anything else, things change. Taylor’s gone, Morris was cut loose, but Faulk is once again safe as the team seems ready to keep him around for at least the first six weeks of the season. As we all know, it’s a long year, and anything can happen. Considering how injury prone their backfield has been in recent years thanks to Taylor and Morris both dealing with issues, having reliable depth has been a problem. Faulk’s mere presence alone may end up being a great thing for them to have off the bench midseason if someone goes down.
After all, you never know who may be banged up at that point in the season. Every year something seems to happen, and unfortunately there’s no substitution for knowledge or experience – which he brings. Factor in that Faulk is also smart and instinctive, and it only further solidifies the reason why he’s still here.
For now Faulk won’t be taking the field when they open one week from tonight down in Miami, and he’s admitted it’s been tough. When asked by Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald about it, the veteran runningback admitted he thought he would have been out working already, but he’s just focused on trying to make sure he’s ready should he be called upon.
“Not really,” Faulk told the newspaper. “But when you’re a player and you’ve been doing this for this long, you understand the business, you understand the game, so you just accept your role and move on. Just keep getting better every day and waiting to see when you’re opportunity comes again.”
If history is any indication, they may need him. The good news is the way that this season is set up, the Patriots are in a bye in week 7, so Faulk would essentially have two weeks to get himself ready for their match-up against Pittsburgh on the road in week 8. Even if he’s not as quick as he used to be, he’s still a guy who’s been fantastic picking up the blitz and he knows how to get open.
It’s a roster deep with talent this season, and having the ability to keep a guy like him around as essentially a potential midseason roster acquisition certainly isn’t a bad thing.
Belichick acknowledged Faulk’s value a few weeks ago, and he knows what he has in the veteran.
“Once Kevin gets out there, he’s very much of a known quantity,” said Belichick back on August 13th. “[It’s] just it’s a question of where he is in his rehabilitation, where he is physically.
“All the rest is – Kevin’s skills are, I think, pretty well documented.”
Fortunately for Faulk, even if he’s a little slower, the value that comes with those ‘skills’ may be the key reason we could potentially see him one more time this season.