With all the hype surrounding all of the wide receivers the Patriots brought in this offseason, and given that New England is still a passing team first, there hasn't been a whole lot of national attention paid to what is actually going to be one of 2012's more intriguing training camp battles: the Patriots' backfield. Currently, the Patriots have six backs on the roster for what I ultimately think will be four spots, and at this point who will get the bulk of the carries in 2012 is anyone's guess. Not only are the Patriots already loaded at the position with Joseph Addai, Brandon Bolden, Eric Kettani, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Danny Woodhead, but rumors started circulating last week about the team reuniting with veteran running back Sammy Morris. Add to that Kevin Faulk's uncertain future and the two fullbacks currently on the team and fighting for a roster spot, and we're looking at a lot of bodies competing for the right to stare at Tommy B's muscular behind as he lines up under center this year. And while I definitely see New England using the committee approach to their running game and opting not to have a true number one running back for the team, at the end of the day one player is going to end up getting at least the small majority of the carries, and the rest will find their roles on the team behind him.
As the slow time in the NFL rolls painstakingly on, I figured this week would be a good time to take a look at the Patriots' running back situation and
fail try to predict how the position will shake out come September. Over the next few days, I'm going to break down the backs currently on the roster, and try to predict what role I see each player having for the 2012 campaign. Given that nobody knows what's going on inside Bill Belichick's head at any given moment, and that many of the backs currently on the roster are relatively unproven, there isn't a whole lot to go on other than projections and last year's stats. Plus, seeing how training camp hasn't even started yet and the Patriots are always good for at least one big surprise every offseason, odds are we'll all look back at these predictions in a few weeks and laugh. But I'm more than used to getting laughed at, so I'm just going to go for it.
And since I'm also a highly creative and insightful guy, I'm going to do my running back breakdown alphabetically. The last time I checked, the alphabet started with A, and so the first guy we'll be looking at this week is Joseph Addai. While Addai is the new kid on the block in terms of time on the Patriots, he's a savvy veteran with a lot to offer this team. Check out his strengths, weaknesses, and what I think his role for the 2012 Patriots will be after the jump.
Strengths: Has the most NFL experience. Excellent with ball security. Has reliable hands and offers versatility in both the run and pass game. Familiar and comfortable with a fast-paced, no-huddle offense. Reliable blocker. Mentor for second year backs Ridley and Vereen.
Weaknesses: Injury prone. On the cusp of being too old for a running back. His presence impedes the progress of the younger backs in terms of on-field experience. Good, but not great, at the goal line. Hasn't had a 1,000 yard season since his sophomore year despite being the primary back in Indy. Not really that "bruiser" back that offers a nice compliment to the other RBs currently on the roster.
How will the Patriots use him? Addai's biggest asset, in my opinion, is his experience and his comfort level with the up-tempo offense the Patriots run. He demonstrated an understanding and awareness of Peyton Manning's playcalling, a quarterback who changed plays at the line constantly, and so he should be able to pick up the Patriots' playbook as well. We all know how important gaining Tommy B's trust is if you want significant playing time, and if Addai can earn that trust this preseason, Addai could really see his role on the team increase. He is a dual threat as a runner and receiver, and he is the best pass blocker currently on the roster. His injury history means that coach Belichick won't want him to see too much action every week, and every snap he takes ultimately impedes the progress of Ridley and Vereen, but Addai can be highly effective as part of a committee where he isn't expected to take on the role of workhorse back. I see Addai taking on a share of 1st and 2nd down duties as a game-plan specific back, especially during games where the playaction pass is finding success. I also see him as the primary goal-line back, at least to start the year. Ridley may very well take over the goal line duties as the season progresses, but I think Addai's experience and versatility gives him the early nod.
How will his season play out: Part-time starter, 1st/ 2nd down and goal line back, 30% of the team's carries.