Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pats' contrasting RBs make comparing tough


It's no secret the New England Patriots are planning to use their plethora of talent at running back any way they can to score points, whether it be on the ground, in the air or on special teams.

But with a group of playmakers so specialized in one area or another, the real question may be who stays and who goes once the roster begins to thin.

"I think it's been very competitive," coach Bill Belichick told reporters Tuesday. "It's interesting, I think when you look at the players at that position – including the guys at fullback – each guy is a little bit different than the other ones. They have some individual, unique skills that are good and so do the other players. It's hard to make a comparison when we talk about it in our personnel meetings.

"Each guy has his strengths and the next guy has maybe a little different set of strengths that are good, they're just different. Their playing styles and the strengths of what they do, their role in the kicking game, their role on third down, their role on short yardage and goal line, all those situational things play into it as well. It's interesting."

Calling the eclectic mix of skill sets both a blessing and a curse, the really interesting part will be when Belichick is forced to thin the herd. The roster needs to be down to 75 by Tuesday, which means at least nine players will be receiving pink slips by next week. Less than a week after that is when final cuts will take place, which will bring that number down to 53.

At the moment, it seems that primary back Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen have carved out their respective niches, with LeGarrette Blount making a strong push for the No. 2 rusher role in the team's preseason games. That leaves a trio of mainly untested backs — James Devlin, Quentin Hines and George Winn — to battle 23-year-old Brandon Bolden and veteran Leon Washington for one or potentially two more open slots.

It wouldn't be surprising at all to see the Pats carry five backs, particularly given Bolden's and Washington's ability to contribute on special teams. In fact, Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston told fans on SportsNation recently he believes the team will carry five backs and only three tight ends, with Rob Gronkowski likely starting the year on the PUP list.

Reiss specifically mentioned Bolden's role on the "Big 4" this preseason as a main factor for that type of move, with Washington — who hasn't seen much work — a potential to slide into Vereen's role from a year ago as he takes over for the departed Danny Woodhead.

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