New England Patriots starting running back Stevan Ridley went down with a knee injury during Thursday’s practice. This is certainly not what the Patriots were looking for adding another name to a full list of injured players. But this does give an opportunity to running backs Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden.
Like Ridley, Vereen was also selected in the 2011 NFL Draft. The two rookies backed up starting running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis last season and following Green-Ellis’ departure this offseason, started a competition to see who would be starting running back. There had long been speculation that Ridley and Vereen would share carries come the start of the regular season.
Bolden has been the biggest surprise in Patriots training camp. Signed from Mississippi this offseason, this undrafted free agent has already taken advantage of his first opportunity forcing Bill Belichick to give him a spot on the roster. Originally projected to play on special teams if on the roster at all, Bolden has proven himself to the point that he is now projected to be a backup running back when the regular season begins.
Up to this point in training camp, Ridley looked the best of these three running backs and seemed to have just about secured the starting position. But this injury opens things up. It’s still unknown how long Ridley will be out but it could be well into the season. Without Ridley, Vereen would be next in line to be the starting running back.
One thing learned over the past decade is that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to Belichick and his Patriots. Belichick would gladly replace a veteran with a rookie if he felt that he deserved it. So the second year Vereen will by no means have the starting spot automatically if Ridley is unable to return. It will be a fight to the finish between Vereen and Bolden with the finish being September 9.
There’s also another running back that is being given an opportunity, Danny Woodhead. Going into the 2012 season it looked like Woodhead would be a back used sparingly and in only certain situations. Not a prototypical running back, the third-year Patriot would be used both in the running game and in the passing game. Now Woodhead has an opportunity to become primarily a running back which is his desired position.
Nobody on the Patriots wants to see Ridley injured. With Green-Ellis gone Ridley is probably the best running back on the team’s roster. But when one player goes down, it opens up opportunities for others. In this case those opportunities are for Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, and Danny Woodhead.