1) New England Patriots starting running back: Stevan Ridley vs. Shane Vereen
The Patriots allowed The Law Firm of BenJarvus Green-Ellis to relocate to Cincinnati during the offseason. Green-Ellis will never be confused with Adrian Peterson, but he was very dependable, tough and productive during his time in New England. The competition to replace Green-Ellis as the Patriots' starter is between Ridley and Vereen -- both second-day picks in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Ridley saw significantly more playing time than Vereen last season, despite being selected a round later than the former University of California running back. Ridley, an LSU product, finished the 2011 campaign with 441 yards rushing, while Vereen managed a meager total of 57 yards on the ground. Each of them accounted for one rushing touchdown on the season.
Ridley seems to be the favorite to win the job, but I wouldn't rule out Vereen just yet. His failure to see the field in 2011 was largely the result of a nagging hamstring injury. He is a more explosive runner than Ridley and has excellent hands out of the backfield. The Patriots are never going to be a run-first team as long as Tom Brady is under center, but the emergence of one of these runners would make this offense even tougher to defend.
Dan Hanzus (NFL.com) New England Patriots' secondary could go either way. It depends on how you look at it.
An optimistic person sees a unit loaded with potential. Devin McCourty showed in his rookie year that he could be a dynamic Pro Bowl talent. Ras-I Dowling has all the physical tools to handle the other corner. No one in the NFL had more than the seven interceptions Kyle Arrington snagged in 2011. Sterling Moore had the biggest play of the season when he knocked the ball out of Baltimore Ravens receiver Lee Evans' hands in the AFC Championship Game. Draft picks Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner and Alfonzo Dennard add depth to the unit.
But the pessimist sees trouble. McCourty is coming off a lost season in which he was eventually moved to safety midstream. Dowling struggled with injuries at Virginia, then saw his rookie season wiped out by more physical issues. As for the draft picks, only second-round selection Wilson comes with immediate expectations.
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