Candidates are all in the running
FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots have gone with a running back-by-committee approach since 2006, when they drafted Laurence Maroney to share carries with veteran Corey Dillon, and they’ll probably continue to employ multiple backs this season.
With BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the team’s leading rusher in 2010 and 2011, now with the Bengals, carries are up for grabs.
New England drafted two backs in 2011 - Shane Vereen in the second round and Stevan Ridley in the third - and as minicamp opened Tuesday, that duo is competing with Danny Woodhead, undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden, and free agent pickup Joseph Addai.
Ridley was New England’s most explosive back last season, recording all five of the team’s 20-plus yard rushes, though he fumbled in the regular-season finale and the first playoff game against Denver and was reduced to spectator for the AFC Championship and the Super Bowl.
Vereen played in just five games because of a balky hamstring, and he only recorded carries in two of those contests, against the Chiefs and Eagles in November.
With no lockout, Vereen and Ridley are getting the offseason work not available last year. They also find themselves in the potentially awkward situation of working together while competing for playing time.
“Shane’s my next-door neighbor,’’ the affable Ridley said after practice. “Not only is he my teammate, that’s my neighbor and we spend a lot of time breaking down the playbook together, studying it together, and we’re trying to better each other. I’m learning things off of Shane, Shane’s learning things off of me, but we’re really working together and it’s a team concept here at the Patriots and that’s what you have to do to be successful.’’
Vereen echoed a familiar refrain.
“It’s going good,’’ he said. “There’s always going to be competition and that’s what makes everyone better. That’s going to make our team a lot better.’’
Ridley, who averaged 5.1 yards on 87 totes last season, acknowledged that without Green-Ellis, things are “wide open.’’ He also knows there’s work for everyone in New England.
“We’re not the ones to say who it’s going to be, we’re just trying to go out there and learn this playbook and that’s all we’re doing - we’re not really focused on who’s going to be the guy or anything like that,’’ he said. “We’re just trying to help each other out and learn together because if we all can do that playbook and they can put us anywhere on the field and we’ll be successful, that’s when we’ll be better as a unit.
“One person’s not going to get it done, we know that, so we have to be able to depend on everybody.’’
Vereen was frustrated by his nagging injury that occurred during training camp last season.
He totaled 15 carries for 57 yards and a touchdown in Weeks 11 and 12, then was inactive for the rest of the season.
But inactive didn’t mean he didn’t learn. Vereen said he’s growing more and more comfortable with the playbook.
“Confidence is the main thing,’’ he said. “The more you hear it, the more you’re around the plays, the more you’re in the offense, the more comfortable and confident you are about what your responsibility is.’’
Ridley had his ball-security issues at an inopportune time, and the Patriots didn’t want to risk him fumbling again in the postseason.
Tuesday he assured he has put those problems behind him.
“As a running back you never want to see the ball on the ground. You can hang your head on it or you can move forward and continue to try to be a better player, and that’s what I have to do,’’ Ridley said. “That was last year, it’s a new year, I’m not looking back, man, all I’m going to do is focus on what’s in front of me and try to be a better player and not make the same mistakes.’’
Both backs are eager to learn from Addai, who spent the first six years of his career with the Colts. Ridley has a previous relationship with Addai, as the former LSU Tigers worked out previously in Baton Rouge.
Yet they’ll still carry lessons learned from Green-Ellis and Kevin Faulk.
“Kev had a very good work ethic and he had a good routine and he stuck to the things that worked for him,’’ Vereen said.
“You can’t really argue with the kind of success he had.’’
Whether it’s with lessons taught by former teammates, new teammates, or one another, Vereen and Ridley are eager to put them all to good use this season.