Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley: The Symbiotic Patriots Backfield

Why did Shane Vereen get passed on the depth chart by Brandon Bolden? (Photo: US Presswire)

NEPD Staff Writer: Oliver Thomas

Alabama head football coach Nick Saban once said, “Everything that Bill Belichick does has some purpose.”

That was precisely the case when the New England Patriots selected California running back Shane Vereen at pick 56, then Louisiana State running back Stevan Ridley at pick 73 of the 2011 NFL draft.

Two years later, we now know that double-dipping at halfback was not a redundant move for New England. Both men have served a purpose. Yet thus far, one has gotten more opportunities than the other. That man has been Ridley.

The 5’11”, 220-pound back saw plenty of work as a rookie in 2011. He racked up 441 yards and one score on 87 carries, all while spelling then-Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Despite being put in the proverbial “doghouse” for fumbling issues, Ridley still flashed the explosion to be a home-run hitter.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Vereen’s rookie campaign. The 5’9”, 205-pounder played in just five games during his first year in Foxboro and netted a modest 57 yards to go with one touchdown. It wasn’t a disaster, although it was far from what you’d hope for out of a second-round pick.

Once 2012 rolled around, the backfield hierarchy was pretty well in order. Green-Ellis had shipped out to the Cincinnati Bengals and Vereen had been held back by injuries.

The No. 1 tailback job was all Ridley’s. And he certainly made the most of it.

The 5’11”, 220-pound Ridley tallied 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns on 290 carries in his first year as starter. His rushing total was good for seventh-most in the league; his rushing touchdown total was tied for third-most. In most circles, those are considered Pro Bowl numbers.

Vereen’s sophomore season was not worthy of Pro Bowl discussion. His slow start got him in a logjam with the shifty Danny Woodhead and undrafted thumper Brandon Bolden. He finished fourth on the team with 251 rushing yards, but he did manage four total touchdowns. The biggest sign of hope for Vereen was his late-season uptick. That was apparent during the AFC Divisional Round playoff game versus the Houston Texans, when he amassed three touchdowns — two via reception.

It’s year three for both draft picks. Expectations are high, and justifiably so. Because Vereen and Ridley were drafted back-to-back, their NFL careers are often compared. That’s not entirely fair, though, as their success comes down to more than statistical measures.

It comes down to utilization.

While they do share a position in title, Vereen and Ridley are vastly different types of players with vastly different skill sets. Vereen runs east to west, but can be a big factor in the receiving game. Ridley runs north to south, but can slash outside and into the open.

If the best of these two worlds could assert themselves as a one-two punch in 2013, then you’re looking at a New England version of “thunder and lightning.” That type of dynamic would certainly make running backs coach Ivan Fears proud.

And right now, all signs point toward that plan coming to fruition.

Vereen is expected to see an expanded role in the offense due to the departure of Woodhead — the team’s third-down back since 2010 — who’s now a San Diego Charger.

The absence of No. 39 leaves a huge void from a versatility perspective, seeing how the Patriots essentially used him like a wide receiver who could take hand-offs. That said, his departure also provides Vereen with an excellent opportunity to secure a steady role in the offense.

Vereen touched on Woodhead’s exodus on May 14, keeping it a team-centric matter (via’s Luke Hughes):

“He had a lot of experience. He had a lot of knowledge. He’s a smart player. His role was pretty key to the team. I learned a lot from him. You can’t really replace him. All you can do is move on and hope to get better from there.”

It’s up to Vereen to take what he learned from Woodhead and expound upon it. If he can do so, then expect the 2011 draft picks to work in tandem. This approach would provide the Patriots with a balance of power and elusiveness, even a pass protection game and a receiving game.

For all intents and purposes, this isn’t a “backfield by commitee.” Ridley is the feature back. He’s the one who should garner 20 attempts per game and all the goal line carries. Nonetheless, Vereen’s abilities as a change-of-pace back should coincide with Ridley’s workload. His prowess in the draw game, as well as his personnel mismatch when lined up out wide, help keep defenses on their heels.

No matter how you slice it, Vereen and Ridley will always be linked. They’re good friends and even next-door neighbors. But in all, their implementation in the Patriots’ offense is where they differ.

That’s not a bad thing, it’s a symbiotic one.

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12 Responses to “Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley: The Symbiotic Patriots Backfield”

  1. Ken W says:

    I’m excited to see how they use Vereen this year. We all saw the end of the year and the playoffs where he made an impact. I think he will take over Woodheads old roll and be that versatile rb.

    I think he can be even better than Woodhead was because he has more break away speed then Woodhead and also a bit more solid and can break more tackles.

    My prediction is that Ridley will be around the same yards as last year 1,000-1,200 and about 10 TD’s.

    Vereen with 400-500 Rushing and 300-400 Receiving and 6-7 TD’s

  2. J H TARBORO says:

    Vereen definitely needs more touches during the season.

  3. Ralph says:

    I really smell the 34 coming back, it makes sense: Chandler, Wilfork, Kelly/Armstead; and Mayo, Spikes, Hightower, Collins. Can’t you guys see whats coming?

    • munchkin says:

      I don’t think the team wants to put Wilfork back in the middle full time. He is more important as a moveable chess piece. He isn’t a young buck anymore. Taking a beating on the nose is not the best use of his assets. Kelly will have to play better than he did last year. He has shown the ability to be a better player. It will be interesting to see how that front seven evolves.

    • Ken W says:

      I think The Pats are going to use both the 3-4 and 4-3. Keeps teams guessing on what they are going to see play to play. They will most likely have a hybrid w/ Collins or Hightower as a DE for curtain situations.

      BB has a lot of pieces that he can use, and I expect to see some different looks on the front 7 this year.

  4. Matt says:

    Deadrick and now Love?? If wilfork gets injured in anyway the Pats defense is screwed. Tommy Kelly is vastly overrated and I don’t think he is that good at all. Armstead has potential. But potential is all he has at this point because we haven’t scene him play in any games. Deadrick and Love have both proved to be good run stuffers. The only thing that was good about the Pats defense the last few years was their play against the run. If they lose that than this year is a lost cause

    • Ryan says:

      Please step away from ledge. Camps haven’t even started yet. We have Forston, Cunningham, Grissom, Vellano, Kelly, Armstead, Bequette who can all play inside if need too. I think we will see some really impactful UDFA’s this year. It seems to be one of the better crops we have had. Not only that what if the plan is to go back to 3-4? Then we wont need nearly as many DL players. Also, there are still some free agents out there, and every team will be making cuts. Look for the Patriots to snag a few or at least bring them in for work outs. If something is obvious to fans I’m sure its just as obvious to Bill. Its an exciting time of year, we as fans just have to be patient.

      • CC says:

        Big V backed by “Whomever” works for now. ……

        Certainly better than Brace, Deaderick & K. Love – who fizzed out after stepping-up, getting paid a bit and immediately well……fizzing out after the check cleared.

        Vereen & Ridley both need2 mac sh×t out this year for sure!!

    • carlo strada says:

      i do agree with this, i dont wanna think on wilforks getting off the field be cause an injury. Love was wilforks back up (until cherrington proves me wrong), deadricks move i could see it happening, but loves move, i didnt see it coming, IMO bad move to me. Love is gonna find team quickly.

  5. Russell Easterbrooks says:

    Patriots release Kyle Love DT !

    • pito says:

      about time too. guy was already playing at 99% of his potential, he was never gonna provide more than adequate run-stopping. i say the pats ought to find out what they have in grissom, cherrington, vega, bequette and all the other d-lineman, who knows what we`ll uncover!

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