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Did the Patriots Get it Right With New-Look Backfield

Published by Bleacher Report on Thu, 19 Mar 2015

If you find yourself lying face first on the road, only to look up and see a car coming at you a mile off in the distance, are you going to wait until the absolute last second to roll out of the way, or are you going to pick yourself up off the ground, wipe off your shirt and be on your merry way'Take your time, I'll wait while you answer.Presuming most of you said the latter, you probably also agree with the New England Patriots' approach to addressing their depth chart at running back. They've known for a while that Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden were all set to become free agents in 2015, and so that's why it's no surprise that they've been slowly adding pieces to the backfield in an attempt to prepare for the potential departure of all three.They signed Jonas Gray to a reserve/future contract in January 2014,drafted James White in the fourth round in May, picked up Tyler Gaffney off waivers from the Carolina Panthers, re-signed LeGarrette Blount after a short stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers, signed Bolden to a two-year contract extension and signed Travaris Cadet away from the New Orleans Saints.That's not a running back depth chart that will make opposing defensive coordinators quake in their headsets or make their jaws hit the playbook, but it could very well give the Patriots enough of a well-rounded group that they will have an answer for any situation.The Patriots didn't necessarily make the wrong decision by moving on from Ridley and Vereen; coming off a torn ACL and facing a long history of fumble-itis, Ridley will probably be settling on a one-year, low-risk contract somewhere. Vereen has been valuable to the Patriots, but at $4 million per year and $5 million guaranteed, he was outside their price range from the get-go.Besides, with 3.9 yards per carry (22nd in the NFL), the Patriots simply were not that efficient running the ball last year. It may be time for a new approach.Blount, Gray and Bolden provide three solid options for between-the-tackles carries on early downs. Blount force trauma was in full effect for the final five games of the regular season, as the five-year veteran picked up 281 rushing yards, averaged 4.68 yards per carry and notched three touchdowns.As a result of Blount's roll, Gray's hot hand went up in smoke after the Week 11 decimation of the Indianapolis Colts (37 carries, 201 yards, four touchdowns); in fact, Gray only touched the ball 24 times in the remaining nine games (six regular season, two playoffs) and was inactive twice. That being said, he could still work his way back into the rotation this offseason with strong showings at organized team activities and June minicamp.Bolden may never be a key component in the rotation at running back, but he may be a bigger piece this year than last year, when he had only 28 carries for 89 yards and one touchdown. His value has always been greater on special teams, where he plays all the coverage units.Gaffney could also be a between-the-tackles hammer for the Patriots and was lauded for that type of skill set by NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki headed into the draft last year, but he could also contribute in the passing game:Excellent size. Effective inside runner. Nice vision and patience. Runs behind his pads -- churns his legs through contact and fights for extra yards. Good hands as a receiver out of the backfield. Highly competitive. Tough and durable. Well-conditioned athlete -- showed he could handle a heavy workload after a year away from the gridiron (averaged 24 carries per game). Very solid in pass protection.White, Gaffney and Cadet give the Patriots a good selection of third-down backs. The trouble is, only Cadet has any significant playing experience in an NFL offense. He caught 38 balls for 296 yards and a touchdown last year for the Saints as they attempted to move on to life without Darren Sproles. They then moved on to life without Cadet this offseason and were reportedly trying to get back together with former Saints running back Reggie Bush.The Patriots were trying to bring in Bush, as well, which could be an indication that they are not quite satisfied with how their scatback options look at the moment. White, Gaffney and Cadet could all push each other for playing time at that spot, but there may still be another shoe to drop in the backfield.NESN's Doug Kyed notices a hole in Cadet's game but points out a solution:Perhaps Gaffney assumes a mantle as a blocking back on passing downs, while Cadet could serve as a receiving back.But that's just the thing: The running backs need to be well-versed in the passing game in order to suit the Patriots offense.With Tom Brady at quarterback, the Patriots offense will always center around the passing game, but the new-look backfield has all the components it needs to complement the aerial attack. The question is whether those components can come together to form a formidable ground game.
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