About a month ago, many people would have assumed that Patriots running backs Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount would be without a doubt the every down backs for the team. But, with Lewis rehabbing from his torn ACL last season and entering training camp on the PUP list, and Blount, coming off a season-ending hip injury last year, is not guaranteed a roster spot, the running back position is up for grabs.
All sources have said Dion Lewis went through a successful ACL surgery last year and has had no setbacks this offseason. The Patriots are just holding their dynamic back out of practice for the time being as a precautionary measure, and he is expected to be ready to go in the next few weeks. LeGarrette Blount has been practicing since day one of training camp, still running physically and seeking out contact. However, Blount is turning 30 this year, which has many fans concerned if he will be able to play through another 16 game season.
So, with the top two running backs coming off season-ending injuries last year, the position is open for some players to compete, at least for the moment. Here are my thoughts.
Even though there are reports that LeGarrette Blount might get cut, it is still very unlikely that that will happen, unless of course he shows signs of laziness throughout training camp. We all know how head coach Bill Belichick deals with those who he sees as lazy players. I still see Blount carrying the load as the Patriots “big” back, forming a tandem with his dynamic counterpart Dion Lewis.
Dion Lewis shocked all Patriots fans from his week 1 performance against the Steelers last season up until he tore his ACL in week 9 against the Redskins. If he can still provide the same style of dynamic playmaking he showed in those 9 weeks last year, there will be no one to challenge him as the other half of the tandem with LeGarrette Blount.
But, let’s say Lewis undergoes a setback in training camp and he is not ready to go by week 1. The Patriots will then look to third-year running back James White. James White played an important role in the Patriots offense last season after the injuries to Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount thrusted him into the team’s number one tailback.
James White played in 14 games last season for the Patriots, but really began receiver true playing time week 11 against the Buffalo Bills. His best game of the year came week 13 against the Philadelphia Eagles in which he caught 10 balls for 115 yards and scored a touchdown. In this game he flashed great potential, and showed us a style of play that was very similar to that of Dion Lewis earlier in the season.
The most likely position for James White, however, will likely be the third running back in the pecking order, behind Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount. But, if one of these running backs is not ready to go by week 1, James White has proven to the team that he is a viable back up.
Running back Brandon Bolden is another solid player who got more playing time last season due to injuries. Bolden provides the most impact on special teams, as he is one of the many specialists that the Patriots have. Last season he displayed some nice hands after being called on to serve as a pass-catching back some of the time. His roster spot his secure mainly due to his special teams qualities, but he has proven to be a reliable halfback.
The Patriots went out and signed veteran free-agent running back Donald Brown this offseason, hoping to add some a veteran voice to the relatively young backfield. Brown had some good years in Indianapolis with the Colts and most recently with the San Diego Chargers. Many people see him on the roster bubble and not likely to make the Patriots final 53 man roster. But, in my opinion, Belichick would not have signed him if he did not see him making an impact on the team. So, if he does make the final roster, he should see the ball some.
To sum things up, the tandem of LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis will likely see most of the carries and catches out of the backfield for this upcoming season, barring any injury setbacks. James White should see some of the field after showing his skill set in the second half of last season. Brandon Bolden will continue to serve as a special teams specialist and take a few carries here and there. And, finally, Donald Brown could or could not make the roster, but will definitely be competing for a spot throughout training camp.