The New England Patriots are entering this year’s training camp with some very interesting positional competitions going on this year, among them, WR, DB, RB, LB and DL. We’ll take a look at the running backs and give some thoughts on the players that they will keep and those others they may.

Running backs/fullbacks on roster include:  Joseph Addai, Brandon Bolden, Tony Fiammetta, Eric Kettani, Spencer Larsen, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead

We can expect to see the Patriots keep 4-5 running backs on the roster. I think that Ridley, Vereen and Woodhead are virtual locks for the roster. That leaves 5 players vying for just two slots in 2012 on the Pats. It should make some nice competition during the camp.

Most of the pundits in the Boston area believe that Stevan Ridley will be the feature running back now that the team allowed BenJarvus Green-Ellis to leave via free-agency for Cincinnati. Ridley had a couple of fumbles at the end of last season and as a consequence rode the pine during the playoffs.

Ridley averaged a nice 5.1 yards per carry last season and should see a lot of carries. He provided more speed than Green-Ellis did and should weather the storm of ball control issues just fine this season. It’s never been an issue for him in the past and won’t be this season.

Shane Vereen is the great unknown going into this season, much was expected last year but injuries limited him to just 15 carries. Probably the most athletically gifted of the Patriots running backs; Vereen can carry the ball inside, outside and can be very effective catching the ball. He’s a one cut and go type of runner; he won’t dance behind the line of scrimmage. He’s very good at reading the play and taking off.

Vereen is potentially the best of the group in space and at Cal was known for making defenders miss. During mini-camps and OTAs he got a lion’s share of the reps with the first team offense. Once the pads go on, it will be interesting to see if that trend continues. But I think Vereen is going to see a lot of action this year, as he and Ridley compete for snaps, possibly flip-flopping as the feature back depending upon who they’re playing against.

Danny Woodhead remains the change of pace running back and will see some quality reps. After he had an outstanding 2010 season, Woodhead was banged up last year and saw his production fall. He did however play very well in the Super Bowl. His problem is that he’s too small to be an every down type player. Filling in the #3 role fits him better and he should be fine there.

Now is where things get interesting, two questions come to mind, do they keep 4 or 5 running backs and are they planning on keeping a FB on the roster or was it just an off-season smokescreen?

The Patriots brought in Joseph Addai and it remains to be seen if the former Colt still has some gas left in the tank. Addai probably wouldn’t be called upon to carry the ball too much but has been very effective out of the backfield and is a very good pass blocking running back. With the return of Kevin Faulk now very doubtful, the Patriots now lose their best pass blocking RB. Addai however, has an uphill battle to make the roster, at least for now.

Brandon Bolden was an interesting signing by the team; he has and will continue to get a lot of comparisons to the Lawfirm. Both went to Ole Miss, both went undrafted, and both run that hard, straight ahead style. It seems every year someone comes in and makes the team after being undrafted. Green-Ellis was one, is Bolden the one in 2012? We’ll have to see, watch him closely during camp.

Which brings us finally to the fullbacks; the team hasn’t used one since Heath Evans left town, but returning offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has always liked to use a FB in his offense, so they went out and signed Spencer Larsen and Tony Fiametta as free agents and now that Eric Kettani has been released by the Navy, he’s free to resume his NFL career.

It will be interesting to see who takes the bull by the horns here; I think most people are evenly split on who they think will take over. All of them have their strong points but I’m going with Larsen on this one, but it is hardly a done deal. Lots of watching will be done here to see how often the FBs get used and who is getting the snaps. Short yardage pickups will be the key here, the Patriots need a reliable runner who can get the tough yards inside.

Injuries are bound to take their toll as they do every year, but it seems like the team has enough parts to make a significant improvement over where they were last year. The competition at camp should be wide open and fun to watch.

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