Friday, June 7, 2013

Patriots tailback Shane Vereen facing pivotal year


It's no secret that Tom Brady and the New England Patriots' passing game has been the crux of the team's offensive success for more than a decade.

And while the running attack is mainly seen as an afterthought to how many touchdowns Brady throws in a given week, the ground game's evolution and success this season in particular could play a big role in the team's overall production.

Case in point is third-year back Shane Vereen, who has been given the task of filling the void left by Danny Woodhead. On top of working to improve his durability, Vereen will likely be a primary target for Brady in third down and red-zone situations.

Much of Woodhead's success last season came in clutch spots, such as near the end of a half, or as a safe check-down, where he'd at times be asked to turn nothing into something. Though Vereen has shown that he has the skill set to fill Woodhead's shoes, running backs coach Ivan Fears alluded to Vereen's progress as one that's more mental than physical.

"Well, I hope it's a great year for him," Fears told Zuri Berry of Friday. "But like everybody, Shane's got to get it done himself. You know, I think he's working his butt off, I think he's getting what he needs to get done, done out here. He's learning the system. I think he's looking good."

Vereen certainly looked good against the Houston Texans in the playoffs last year, but he was, as Berry pointed out, disappointing a week later.

Though the extent of Woodhead's contribution to the offense was never definitive week to week, he was if nothing else reliable. The now-Charger missed only three games in his three years with New England, fumbling only twice in that time.

While Fears praised Vereen's progress, he was quick to note that all the running backs have problem areas to address, and that there is still plenty of work that needs to be done between now and the team's first regular season game in Buffalo.

"Nobody has anything down. We don't have a thing down," he said. "So everybody has got everything to improve on. So you name it, [Ridley's] got to improve on it. So we're gonna do that. That's what we're going to work on, we're going to work on our total game. And everything that we're doing we're going to improve."

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