Rich, yesterday we talked about Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, and New England's approach to this upcoming training camp and preseason. And while all eyes will certainly be on Jimmy G, the position that I think represents one of the biggest question marks on the entire team is running back. Both LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis ended the 2015 season on IR, and the run game never recovered. Although both are slated to be back and healthy to start the year, who knows what kind of shape they will be in. With a solid rushing attack likely more important than ever this September, how confident are you in the running back position heading into training camp?
I have to say that I'm not overly confident- but I'm kind of excited. I know that the offensive line will be better than it was last season because last year was the worst in the tenure of Bill Belichick. It has to be better. The interior line will not be relying on three rookies and there will be a natural growth for the likes of Shaq Mason and Bryan Stork and Josh Kline.
But beyond that, I'm nervous about Lewis' knee and Blount's hip and James White's inability to run the ball. Can anyone be a reliable ball carrier? I think that Blount can be, but he needs to be ready to play the full season. Maybe Donald Brown is the sneaky option based on his guaranteed money. So to answer your question: I have no idea. There are so many question marks that have to be answered. What player will you be watching during camp?
It's DJ Foster for me. Of all the positions in football, running back is probably the easiest in terms of transitioning from college to the pros, so I wouldn't count out the rookie back who converted to receiver for his senior season to return to the position that earned him a second-team-All-Pac 12 nod. Foster looked crazy fast and explosive during limited action during mini-camp, and the nature of the position and how the Patriots utilize their running backs means he could represent that all-purpose threat they covet so much. I don't know if he can make the massive jump into full-time starter, as there are a lot of holes in his game (particularly in blitz pickup), but he's my training camp sleeper for sure.
Speaking of blitz pickup, that's one area where Donald Brown has been pretty solid throughout his career, and you just mentioned him as a potential surprise. Do you really see him making the roster? Maybe usurping James White?
I think the battle at running back will be great because there are so many unique talents. Dion Lewis is the most elusive back in the league. LeGarrette Blount is a special 250-pound hammer. James White, for all his shortcomings as a runner, was one of the most dynamic receivers out of the backfield. I have a hard time seeing the Patriots letting any of these talents go.
And so that leaves Brandon Bolden who is probably the third best rusher and receiver of the returning players. He offers plenty of special teams value, but so does Brown- and Brown has a chance to show that he's far more dynamic on offense. And this leaves Foster and his considerable talent entirely out of the discussion.
So will the Patriots hold five backs on the roster? The suspension of Tom Brady opens up a roster spot for the first quarter of the season if the Patriots want to stash a player. But even if five make the team, someone is still going to get cut. I'm wondering if someone might trade for White to give him a bigger role. That would probably be the best case scenario for the players on the roster.