One of the top positional battles heading into training camp for the New England Patriots was the pass catching running back, or more commonly known as, “the third down back” Over the past three seasons the Patriots have had the luxury of Shane Vereen being their third down running back.
He was so vital to their offensive success in his tenure with the Patriots. Particularly last season, most notably in Super Bowl XLIX when he brought in eleven passes in key situations. In addition to his extensive production in the passing game, he is a very good run blocker. Now he is with the New York Giants, and is apparently producing well in training camp.
In the first week or so of training camp for the Patriots, free agent addition Travaris Cadet formally of the New Orleans Saints, was impressing fans and media. When you see him, he looks more like a slot receiver as opposed to the typical pass catching running back. At 6-1, 210 pounds he does not have the build and strength to pass block against linebackers. However, he is quick and can play in the slot and provide a mismatch for linebackers. You could say he is a poor mans Shane Vereen.
Cadet’s training camp has been derailed by a hamstring injury for about two weeks. He just recently returned to practice on Wednesday. He seemed very intriguing at the start of camp, and it looked as though he was the frontrunner for the starting job. Nevertheless, there is a good chance he may not be able to get back up to speed with all the time missed. That could very well lead to his release.
Dion Lewis has been one of the few bright spots so far in the preseason. Lewis is heading into his fifth season in the league and is looking to finally make his stake with a pro team after bouncing around from Cleveland, Philadelphia, and most recently Indianapolis. Seeing how he only stands at 5-8, 195 pounds Lewis is vastly undersized for a professional running back. However, he has been good in preseason action. He had a very nice eleven-yard touchdown run on a draw play this past Saturday against the Saints.
Lewis is so small he can sneak behind the big offensive lineman and then burst when he finds an open lane. He reminds a lot of people of Danny Woodhead because of that rare ability that he has. It will be interesting to see whether or not he receives solid first team reps in Friday’s game in Carolina. The third preseason game is always the most important because it is the closest thing to a regular season contest. The week leading up and preparation is similar, and starters play the majority of the night. Therefore, it will be interesting to see where a player such as Dion Lewis stands as of right now.
Brandon Bolden has been a curious case in Foxborough this summer. Due to the fact that he had the most experience at the third down back role going into camp, and because he just received a new contract, I was under the impression that he had the best shot at grabbing the spot. It looks as if I was way off. At the start of camp he took a decent amount of reps at the position, as was the same with the other backs.
Then when the bright lights of the preseason games came on he never saw the field when the offense was out there. It is very strange, and it would make sense if there was a problem between Bolden and running backs coach Ivan Fears. Bolden would make the most sense right now because he can provide in all three phases of the position; he can run between the tackles, catch the ball, and pass block effectively. Although, the coaching staff may have more of an inkling to the situation.
James White, without a doubt seems to be the favorite for the third down back running back role on the Patriots as of right now. At the start of camp, there was question marks surrounding White because of the expectations he did not live up to after last year’s training camp. It was questioned whether or not he could run in between the tackles, and if he could stay upright when contacted. Thus far in the preseason White has been solid and has proved doubters like myself wrong. In the game against the Saints, White had a nice three-yard touchdown run.
White and Dion Lewis are both smaller and very shifty. White has shown that he can run, much like Dion Lewis sneaking behind the lineman and bursting when he finds the hole. He is just a bit quicker than Lewis. White played in a very explosive offense in college at the University of Wisconsin, and Patriots fans can only hope that he will have similar production in New England. The only question now is if he can get on the same page with Tom Brady. Everything is at a much quicker pace with Brady, and we will see Friday night if a young player like James White can handle it.