Tag Archives: 3rd down back

Who Is Winning The Third Down Running Back Battle In Foxborough?

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.

Five Patriots Players To Watch For On Thursday Night Against Packers

The time has finally come, sort of. It isn’t the best football, but it is players fighting for their jobs, in live game situations with the bright lights on at Gillette Stadium. Preseason football is here, and that means it is time to evaluate the players that have been hyped up and scrutinized throughout training camp.

With so many players on the roster that will be cut by week one, it is hard to keep track of which players you want to keep an eye on during preseason games. Here are five players that you should watch closely on Thursday night if you are a Patriots fan.

Josh Boyce: The majority of offensive starters for the Patriots will not be playing tonight. That means hopefully no Rob Gronkowski, no Julian Edelman, and maybe a limited Danny Amendola. There is a battle for the fourth wide receiver spot currently brewing in Foxborough, and third-year receiver Josh Boyce is near the top of that battle.

Boyce has seen more time in preseason games throughout his career than in regular season games. Last year he spent the season on the practice squad, and he has impressed thus far in training camp. He has constantly beat rookie cornerback Darryl Roberts for touchdowns. On Thursday night, expect to see Boyce on the field for the vast majority of the game.

csnne.com
csnne.com

Boyce will be playing alongside and competing against at the same time receivers such as Brian Tyms, Chris Harper and Brandon Gibson. Those four are fighting for roster spots, and Boyce has the most experience in the Patriots system out of the four.

Malcolm Butler: The last time we saw Malcolm Butler on the game field he was intercepting Russell Wilson at the goal line to win the Patriots the Super Bowl, as a fairly unknown un-drafted rookie cornerback. Now he is the teams top corner and he will face heavy scrutiny if he doesn’t perform up to that billing.

Throughout the first three weeks of training camp, Butler has been a pain in Tom Brady’s side, intercepting and deflecting passes left and right. He has certainly locked down that left cornerback spot on the roster. Even though for the time being he is labeled as a starter, he will need to be on the field for a large majority of the time Thursday night.

In the preseason, defensive coordinators do not get to fancy with their schemes. As former head coach Herm Edwards once said, “In the preseason you have two flavors of defense, chocolate and vanilla. In the regular season you get thirty-two flavors.”

patriots.com
patriots.com

Basically what Herm is trying to say is that in the preseason, you get basic man coverage and light zone coverage from defenses. Therefore, we will get a decent evaluation of Malcolm Butler when he matches up against top notch receivers such as Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb even if it is only for a series or two.

Trey Flowers: In the preseason, we get a pretty solid look at the new rookies on the roster. Seeing how the first-round picks are usually penciled in as starters we don’t get as good a look at them as we do with the mid to late round picks. That is why I will be focusing on a player like fourth-round pick, defensive end Trey Flowers.

Flowers started off training camp slow, but of late has been getting solid reps with the starting defense. He is a bigger defensive end at 6-4, 269 pounds and many think he could play in a 3-4 scheme, as oppose to being just a five-technique defensive end.

Flowers is a work-in-progress when it comes to being a pass rusher, but is a solid run defender. Flowers will be fighting with Zach Moore for playing time, and I am giving the leg up to Flowers on that one. In addition, Pro Football Focus had Trey Flowers as their second best steal of the entire draft.

Jimmy Garoppolo: Obviously with the suspension of Tom Brady up in the air we will not being seeing him on Thursday night against the Packers. Now we get to see back up Jimmy Garoppolo for most of the night. It will be a good look at what might be a reality early on in the season if Brady does have to serve a game.

Furthermore, an annual preseason tradition for Patriots fans is evaluating the back up quarterback. Last summer, Jimmy Garoppolo impressed in preseason action leading many to think that he could be the heir apparent to Tom Brady. So far in practice this summer, Garoppolo has been very underwhelming. He takes too long to make decisions, and with a patchy offensive line full of young inexperienced players, that could be a recipe for disaster against Green Bay.

patriots.com
patriots.com

Also, Garoppolo needs to test his arm. He will have receivers with him that can somewhat stretch the field in Josh Boyce and Brian Tyms. We saw a little bit of that Garoppolo to Tyms connection last August, and it has transitioned into training as well this year. Expect Josh McDaniels to test Garoppolo against the Packers with a pass happy playbook.

James White: With Shane Vereen gone, one of the most important positions on the Patriots offense has been left barren, the pass catching back. It has been an interesting battle to watch between Brandon Bolden, Travaris Cadet, and James White in Foxborough. If you asked me who was losing that battle as of right now, I would tell you it was White.

However, with Travaris Cadet suffering from a hamstring injury we more than likely will not see him in action against the Packers. Therefore, we will be getting a heavy dose of Brandon Bolden and James White. Most Patriots fans know what they have with Brandon Bolden. He is a very good special teams player who can pass block, and come out of the backfield when needed and be fairly productive.

James White is still an unknown. He was hardly on the field at all in 2014, and when he was he did not show an burst like he did in college at the University of Wisconsin. Thursday night will be his chance to prove that he can come out of the backfield and shine and also run in-between the tackles. If he doesn’t show that ability that he was drafted for, White could be looking at another season where he barely sees the field.

New England Patriots: Patriots Training Camp Day One Evaluations

Day one of New England Patriots training camp is officially in the books. Fans piled into the practice field stands and the famous hill, to watch their favorite team take the field for the first practice of the summer. Many fans most likely had a very tough time telling which players were which, because in typical Bill Belichick fashion he sent his players onto the field without jersey numbers. The only thing the casual fan could tell was that quarterbacks were in red, offense in gray shirts, and defense in blue shirts.

I was in attendance at practice, and because I spend too much learning every minute detail of these players, I did not have an overly tough time deciphering which players were which. Seeing how the players were in just shorts, t-shirts, and helmets there was virtually zero contact.

7/30/15 QBs and WRs
7/30/15 QBs and WRs

The lack of physicality made it very difficult for defensive players and offensive lineman to stand out. Therefore, I really limited myself to evaluating some of the skill position groups that were really on display. This meant predominately quarterbacks, wide receivers, and slightly tight ends and running backs.

The running backs that were out on the field today were Brandon Bolden, Travaris Cadet, Tyler Gaffney, Dion Lewis, and James White. When it came to first team reps with Tom Brady and company, Brandon Bolden received almost all of the snaps when the offense was in shot gun, (which was almost every snap).

Furthermore, in goal line drills, the Patriots lined up in the jumbo set with six offensive lineman, with Gronkowksi and Chandler on the end, and Jonas Gray running the ball behind James Develin in the, “I” formation. Jonas Gray was big to begin with, now he looks significantly thicker, and Josh McDaniels seems to be looking to get him involved in the passing game.

Patriots.com
Patriots.com

Patriots fans got their first glimpse of Tyler Gaffney today, and it was in a limited role. He received decent reps, but mostly just running the ball in simulated goal line situations. He also got some special teams work in.

The wide receivers were harder to tell apart. Obviously Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are easy to tell apart, but players such as Josh Boyce, Brandon Gibson, and Chris Harper are not as easy. Amendola and Edelman looked impressive as always. Brady targeted Edelman more than any other receivers, connecting every time they attempted, with the exception of one post corner route in the back of the end zone, dropped by Edelman.

Both Aaron Dobson and Brian Tyms saw a lot of time on opposite sides of the field. Dobson was with Brady and the first team, and Tyms with Garoppolo and the second team. Garoppolo targeted Brian Tyms a total of six times throughout the day during team drills, going four for six, based on my observations, and as expected they were all fade routes and skinny posts. Dobson was on the field a lot with Brady, but the ball did not come his way very often.

At tight end, there are few words to say other than, Rob Gronkowski is a freak. He caught multiple passes in traffic from Tom Brady, the most impressive being a skinny post route in which he caught the ball while shaking off Tavon Wilson like he was nothing, and spiking the ball in the process. In addition, Jake Bequette did not impress at tight end. He has the physical stature to be a beastly blocking tight end, however he has stone hands, dropping passes on multiple occasions.

Quarterback was by the far the easiest position to evaluate, given the fact that there was only two quarterbacks on the field. Tom Brady impressed as he always does in training camp. His passes were pinpoint and he also showed a little bit of athleticism. Early on in practice Brady caught a fade in the corner of the end zone from Julian Edelman. Then later on he caught another pass down the sideline from Julian Edelman on a reverse pass, this time he only needed one hand.

garops patriots.com

Many were probably expecting to see a slightly improved Jimmy Garoppolo from the one they had seen in December. If you went to Patriots training camp with these expectations, you left disappointed. His first pass of the day was an interception to rookie Matthew Wells or Jordan Richards. He simply can’t throw the ball down field and he seems to be afraid to even try it. Brady certainly does not have a cannon for an arm, but he makes decisions quickly and gets rid of the football. Jimmy panics when his first read is gone, looks around and then dumps it off to James White. If it were a real game situation he would be put in the turf fairly quick.

I hope to attend training camp more in the coming days, so stay tuned for more updates and analysis of the Patriots practices.

Patriots Training Camp Battles: Travaris Cadet Vs. James White For Third Down Running Back

Images from Apkfun.co and Real Saints Nation
Images from Apkfun.co and Real Saints Nation

Over the past fifteen seasons in New England, Patriots fans have gone into each season knowing that their team has a reliable pass-catching running back on the roster. Whether it was Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, or Shane Vereen,Tom Brady has always had the luxury of having a solid running back that he can dump the ball off to. Heading into the 2015 season, Tom Brady and the Patriots do not have the same luxury with Shane Vereen signing with the New York Giants this past offseason.

There is a multitude of running backs on the roster that seem to have the ability to take over the role, but they are all for the most part unproven. Two players that will be competing for the role are veteran free agent Travaris Cadet, and second-year back James White. 

Travaris Cadet has spent his first three seasons in the league with the New Orleans Saints, catching passes from Drew Brees. Cadet was basically irrelevant in his first two seasons, catching only seven passes, for 49 yards, and one touchdown. In year three Cadet took a miniature jump onto the NFL scene finishing with 38 receptions, for 296 yards, and one touchdown. 

Much like Shane Vereen, Travaris Cadet spends a lot of his time playing in the slot. At 6-1, 210 pounds Cadet is built like a running back-slot receiver hybrid. Also, with his size and physicality Cadet is able to pass protect for the quarterback, which is huge when playing for Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick. Cadet just doesn’t seem to have that burst potential. His spot on the roster is fairly safe, barring injury, and his ability to digest the playbook will determine whether or not he will earn a starting job.  

James White was one of the more interesting players in training camp last season. Throughout July and August, White received first team reps and performed well during practice. However, when the bright lights came on he couldn’t deliver. 

White was mediocre at best in preseason games. He never flashed in the passing game like he was labeled, and in the run game there was not much physicality or burst. His lack of production in the summer lead to his limited game action during the regular season. 

Going into training camp this year, White needs to show that he can really be a playmaker like Shane Vereen was at times during his tenure. He needs to play in the slot and also pass block, two essentials for a running back in the Patriots offense as fans have learned over the past couple of seasons. 

In the end, James White will most likely come out on top in this training camp battle, given his familiarity with the Patriots system. Nevertheless, in time Travaris Cadet will become more acclimated to the offense and take over the position. 

In addition, a change will be necessary due to that fact that at 5-10, 194 pounds James White will easily get exposed pass blocking and will get knocked down easily when running the ball. Cadet is better equipped physically to take over the job. The only way James White remains a starter is if he really flashes and becomes an essential piece to the offense. It is tough to imagine that happening in 2015.