Predicting the next unpredictable: Split Backs formation (Part 1)

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports


It was not long ago New England Patriots took the NFL by storm by unleashing the two TE set, featured by Rob Gronkowski and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The meat of the formation was simple: You didn't know what they would do. You may have two more blocker than counting offensive linemen. Or you may have two more receivers than counting wide outs. Oh by the way, even you guessed it right, their QB is such a malicious guy who can change what they would do at the last second...just like changing hands in the ol' rock paper scissors after you spy peek opponent's hand.

The irony of the story? Nobody, I mean no-freaking-body could predict how this formation would see the end.

Fast forward to 2014.

Demands for high quality TEs are at the unprecedented level. A guy like Eric Ebron, who is nothing but a oversized WR cracks the top 10 of the draft. Guys like Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Troy Niklas and Jace Amaro go way before where Patriots are comfortable to take them.

Meanwhile, our own skill position players, who betrayed Tom Brady more often than they helped him in 2013, are having quite a spring. Julian Edelman gets a nice raise. Danny Amendola appears to be healthy (at least for now). Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins have shown glimpse of the "second year leap."

Yet one position has failed to generate positive buzz. Tight End. Justin Jones and Asa Watson have yet to really stand out in OTAs (and that AMC guy has come and gone). I see more articles that connect Patriots to Jermichael Finley / Dustin Keller than ones about what Cristiano Ronaldo ate last night.

Every sign points to the deviation from the once unpredictable and formidable two TE set. And with the potential depth of quality WRs, it just makes perfect sense to feature more three, four or even five wide receiver sets.Unpredictability my ass. If your 4th or 5th CB constantly gets burned by opponents 4th or 5th WR, knowing plays won't do much good. As THE biggest homer of Kenbrell Thompkins (projected to be 3rd or 4th WR) of Pats Pulpit, I am more than fine with that.

However, more you read observations from Patriots OTAs, more you find there are some non-TEs / non-WRs that are making some buzz.

Enter James White and Roy Finch.

Doug Keyd (NESN)

James White White had a noticeable drop in Wednesday’s minicamp practice, but the rookie running back, overall, showed better hands than Shane Vereen this spring. White also appears to be an experienced route runner, and he was known for his pass blocking at Wisconsin. Vereen is the better athlete, however. Hopes are high for Vereen next season, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see the Patriots give White an equal chance to earn the "starting" third-down back spot in training camp. The Vereen-White battle is reminiscent of when the Patriots appeared to be "phasing out" a contract-year Wes Welker in favor of Julian Edelman in 2012 before the latter suffered an injury. That’s not to say we saw any sort of phase-out for Vereen this spring, but given his contract scenario, it’s possible that the Patriots approach the position in a similar fashion.

Nick Underhill

Unheralded hype: Cornerback Daxton Swanson and running back Roy Finch might make a run at roster spots. Both players are long shots, but they no longer seem quit as long after the last few weeks. Swanson has shown up in several practices and recorded two interceptions Wednesday. And the small and shifty Finch has a way of catching the eye. He moves well and made some nice catches during minicamp working out of the slot.

While everything has been done without pads, these two movable chess piece RBs are definitely on the right direction.

You might say, "Well we have Shane Vereen entrenched in the role. He needs back-ups but you won't see them until Vereen gets bit by the injury bug again."

Oh are they?

Gentlemen, this may be we are seeing the next "unpredictable" formation.

Jump to Part 2

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