The 2014 Patriots look to have a more diversified attack on paper. With the addition of Brandon LaFell and second year wide receivers, Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson looking to make the second year jump, the passing game should be better. The offensive line has added some young players and there is still future hall-of-fame quarterback Tom Brady. The running game has lost LeGarrette Blount, but added fourth round pick James White out of Wisconsin.
A look at the current roster on patriots.com shows the following players looking to add to the success of the team this year.
Stevan Ridley followed up a break out 2012 season with a shaky at best 2013 season. The fourth year running back needs to become more secure with the pigskin, if he wants to gain over 1,000 yards again in his career and cash in during this contract year. A tough between the tackle runner, with good burst through the hole, Ridley is easily the Patriots best running back when you take away the security issues. He will never be a big play threat as he lacks the ideal second gear to break the long TD run. Still his vision is what makes him such a strong running back. Ridley who only started six game in 2013 down from 12 in 2012 still managed to find the end zone seven times. A lot is riding on him personally this year to continue his career in New England.
The other fourth year running back Shane Vereen, is looking to stay healthy. Playing in only eight games last year he caught 47 passes. Vereen was dynamic in a week one victory versus the Buffalo Bills before an injury to his wrist stalled his start. Shane is the type of shifty runner and pass catcher that can be used all over the field. The wrist injury took away some of his ability to catch the pass over the shoulder. It also seemed that the coaching staff was reluctant to hand the ball to Vereen in traditional running sets. Most of Vereen’s runs were out of the shotgun set and were draws. With the ability to line up all over the field, Shane Vereen should lead the Patriots in snaps this season.
The casual football observer looks at Brandon Bolden's stat line from last year and sees a healthy 4.9 yards-per-carry. A deeper look at the numbers show that Bolden who ran for 271 yards on 55 carries had two runs that netted him a total of 79 yards. After taking out the long carries Bolden stat line reads a pedestrian 3.6 yards-per-carry. While ball security is never the issue with Brandon, his lack of sustained runs will hurt him. With the injuries to Vereen last season, Bolden stepped in and hauled in 21 receptions. His work load may diminish even more than it did after the return of Vereen last season.
Fourth round draft pick James White out of Wisconsin, has the skills to allow him to spell both Ridley and Vereen. The all-time leader in receptions at the University of Wisconsin is use to sharing time in the backfield. His skill set allows him the luxury of lining up in the back field as well as split out wide as a receiver. During OTA’s White and Vereen were seen in the backfield together in what is being called the Pony Set. With both back being able to run and catch equally well, the Patriots could utilize the Pony set as the new dual tight end offense.
Undrafted rookie free agents, Roy Finch and Stephen Houston, will join first year back Jonas Gray in a training camp battle. If one of these players is to make the roster it could be at the expense of Bolden. A shock would be the release of Ridley to make room for a guy like Houston. Finch drew comparisons to former Patriots running back Danny Woodhead and a shaken soda can by Jeff Howe in a Boston Herald article. It will be interesting to see if the 5’7” 180lbs player can handle the rigors of an NFL field. Houston the running back out of Indiana has the size to be the pound it back that Blount was last season. Gray flashed in pre-season last year, but at this point is a training camp body.