One of the most interesting training camp battles for the Patriots entering the 2012 NFL season is at the running-back position. The Patriots have had somewhat of a turnstile approach to the position over recent seasons as Laurence Maroney, Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, amongst others, have all moved on.
This year the Patriots have two exciting second year players, a long with a maligned veteran who is looking to prove himself all over again, one veteran carry over from last season and an undrafted free agent.Stevan Ridley:
Entering camp, the former LSU product is the odds-on favorite to win the starting job. Ridley showed in college and during his rookie season that he has a lot of talent. However he needs to prove that he is 100 percent comfortable in the system and that he can be a consistent every down back. Ridley has the edge over fellow second year player Shane Vereen after playing more as a rookie. Nothing is guaranteed entering Patriots' training camp however and Bill Belichick will have no problem giving Vereen a greater role if he proves to be the better player.
Ridley is all but guaranteed his roster spot, unless he has a disastrous training camp, but how much he features this year will be determined by how much consistency he shows in training camp.Shane Vereen:
Vereen dealt with a leg injury entering last season and barely featured during the regular season as a rookie.Vereen is essentially entering this camp as a rookie, but did participate in the team's off-season workouts. Not only did he participate, but Vereen was actually the lead back at times during the team's OTAs.
Vereen would be a better fit in the Patriots' offense than anyone else who is entering training camp on the roster. He is an agile back with the versatility to be a receiver coming out of the backfield. Vereen will need to prove that he is a capable blocker who can be trusted on third downs when protecting Tom Brady. He will challenge Ridley for the greater share of the team's carries, but the most likely role Vereen fills is as the third down back.Danny Woodhead:
Woodhead is the player currently in the team's third down role. Woodhead's involvement in the offense slackened last year compared to the previous season. Depending on how others perform, he could be fighting for his roster spot in training camp this year. That is not something that he isn't accustomed to, after famously failing to make the Jets' roster before landing with the Patriots a few seasons back.
Woodhead will need to remind everyone of his versatility and ability to play special teams if he is to cling onto his roster spot. One thing really working in his favor is that he already has the trust of the coaching staff and quarterback in New England. That is something all of his competition are still trying to earn.Joseph Addai:
Depending on his health, Joseph Addai could be the wildcard in this year's running back competition. Addai has a lot of promise as a dual threat back with the capabilities of a consistent blocker. The 29-year-old back has had multiple injury issues in recent seasons, but if fully healthy he has never played in a better spot. The Colts never had the offensive line to really show off his talents while Peyton Manning was always more reluctant to check to the running game than Tom Brady.
As a role player in this offense, Addai could be in for a huge year. If he can prove his health in training camp, he could prove to be an adequate performer in the role previously filled by Kevin Faulk.Brandon Bolden:
Bolden enters Patriots training camp with some question marks over his character and commitment to being a professional football player. As a running back he has his limitations also. He needs to develop as a blocker and doesn't offer much of a threat in the running game. He is a hard runner who needs to outperform his college tape to have any chance of making this roster.