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Film Review: Patriots running backs are thrilled to have FB James Develin back from injury

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The Patriots missed their fullback in 2015 and he’s already making a mark.

The New England Patriots is going to be so much better in 2016 because it will be entirely different from its 2015 version. It’s not just that the offensive line will be different, or that offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia is back in town.

The return of fullback James Develin is going to pay off big time.

Develin suffered a broken leg in 2015 and sat out the whole season on the injured reserve. The Patriots elected not to replace him in the offense, instead playing various tight ends and offensive linemen at the fullback position. It didn’t work. As fun as it was to watch guard Shaq Mason in the open field, he would inevitably clog the lanes he was sent to open.

We witnessed Develin’s value in the limited snaps he played against the Panthers- he played just 13 snaps on offense- as he opened up blocks for the Patriots biggest rushes on the night.

On the Patriots opening drive, running back Tyler Gaffney scampered for 14-yards and a first down, thanks in part to some great work by Develin and the offensive line.

We’ll start with the line and tight end Martellus Bennnett, as all play a major part in allowing Develin and Gaffney to hit the edge in the first place.

The gold star goes to left guard Joe Thuney, who looks like he’s blown into the backfield, but he’s actually saved the play. The defensive tackle is aligned in the B gap between the guard and the tackle, and Thuney’s job is to get on his far shoulder to steer him away from the running lane. This is a play that the Patriots regularly failed last season as the guard was not quick or agile enough to head off the defensive lineman.

Another star goes to center David Andrews for doing just enough to delay All Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly from making a signature stop in the backfield, and to Bennett for blocking the linebacker and drawing the attention of the defensive back away from the ball carrier.

But Develin also contributes in a key way as his drive around the edge prevents the defender that left tackle Nate Solder is blocking from reaching Gaffney, and he disrupts the pursuit of the defensive back trying to make a play.

I don’t think the Patriots would have been capable of this play last year with Mason in the backfield.

Another play that has been reintroduced to the playbook is fairly simple:

And now I’m not saying that the Patriots didn’t run this play in 2015; they definitely did. But imagine Mason as the fullback here, trying to squeeze between Julian Edelman and Nate Solder on the left edge. Mason turns the running lane into a bottle neck by serving as the cork.

Develin, on the other hand, turns his body so LeGarrette Blount has just enough space to get to the second level. Develin’s block turns this from a no-yard gain to a five yarder. And I think Blount will be particularly grateful for Develin because there’s no way his 250-pound frame could fit the gap with Mason as the blocker.

Blount’s marquee run on the evening resulted from a key block by Develin, too.

We should also give props to right guard Chris Barker for doing a nice job of opening up the rushing lane and giving Develin a lot of room to operate. Daps to Andrews and Thuney, too, for holding the inside of the lane open.

But it’s crucial to see how Blount slips to the back of Develin’s block, treating the fullback like a wall.

Develin is not a perfect fullback. He is still capable of missing a few blocks and is lack of value in the passing game really prevents him from ascended to the upper echelon of the league.

But he brings an element to the Patriots rushing attack that was absent last season, and one that will bring the offense to even greater heights.