When New England Patriots starting running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis departed this offseason the running game was left to Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Many questioned whether the pair of 2011 NFL Draft picks could handle the job of an NFL featured back but so far Ridley has exceeded expectations. While Ridley’s performance in week one Sunday was great news for the Patriots offense, it could get even better with Vereen’s return.
Shortly into the offseason the Patriots signed former Indianapolis Colts running back Joseph Addai. It looked as though Addai would be there to mentor the two younger backs to help them adjust to their new roles. But Addai failed his physical and was soon after released from the team. That left the running game to Ridley, Vereen, Danny Woodhead, and undrafted free agent Brandon Bolden.
Though the Patriots running game is very inexperienced, Vereen and Ridley looked strong in the Patriots first two preseason games against the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles. Then Vereen suffered an injured foot on August 24 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With Woodhead a combination of running back and receiver and Bolden not expected to be a major factor in the offense that put a lot on the shoulders of Ridley and more questions on the running game. But the Patriots received good news Wednesday when Vereen returned to the practice field for the first time since his injury.
The return of Vereen will be a welcome addition for Ridley who carried the ball 21 times for 125 yards. The second most carries Sunday went to Woodhead who carried the ball just six times for 20 yards. Vereen’s return will take a lot of pressure off Ridley giving him someone to share carries with. Also the combination of Vereen’s speed and Ridley’s strength is something the Patriots are certainly excited to see once the second-year player is back to full strength.
While the New England Patriots are undoubtedly a passing team in a passing league, a strong running game can still be key to winning games. After losing their starting running back this offseason the present situation looked bleak with the job falling on two second year players. It looked worse when one of those two went down with an injury. But with Ridley’s performance Sunday and with what Vereen has shown thus far, the young back’s return could be a boost to an already stellar Patriots offense.