The New England Patriots will feature a talented running corps in the upcoming season. With so many question marks surrounding the wide receiving core, the tailbacks will likely be included more in the passing game than in recent seasons.
For the past three years, Danny Woodhead was the staple halfback that presented a threat to catch passes out of the backfield. However, Woodhead signed with the San Diego Chargers this past offseason, shifting the responsibility to Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen to pick up the slack as pass-catching halfbacks.
Ridley recently expressed a desire to become an all-around back that not only carries the football, but also catches and blocks for the offense. Ridley has caught just nine passes for 64 yards in his first two years in the NFL.
Head coach Bill Belichick deems versatility as an essential quality in selecting players because specialized players help form a balanced offense easier. The Patriots were ranked fourth in the league in passing attempts and second in rushing attempts in 2012.
“This is a balanced offense. We get it done through the air and the ground as well,” Ridley said to NESN’s Doug Kyed. “If they come to the running backs a little bit more, we’re gonna be that excited to catch a few balls out of the air. I can’t really say they’re going to put more emphasis on it because there’s always emphasis on it out here.”
“The coaching staff that we have — they don’t cut any slack. They want us catching the ball, they want us blocking, they want us running. They want us in all three phases. Not just one.”
After rushing for 1,290 yards with 12 touchdowns this past season, Ridley is expected to get the bulk of the carries in 2013. Yet, Ridley could also be used more on third downs situations this season as a blocker and receiver.
So far in training camp, both Ridley and Vereen have been split out as wide receivers on the outside and at the slot. Vereen has proven to be more of a threat as a wideout through the first couple of practices and could wind up taking a lot of reps at the wide receiver position this season.
Belichick recently hinted at using a “best-11-players” approach to the offense, likely meaning one running back will be in the backfield and another halfback will be at wide receiver. If that is the case, expect Ridley to be in the backfield more often than not, and Vereen to be taking the bulk of the snaps at the wideout position.