By: Steve Balestrieri
What a difference a week makes….
After the first ten days or so of the Patriots training camp the positional battle between LaGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden for the backup running back slot wasn’t going very well for Blount. Granted there is precious little hitting involved in the practices at that point and the running that Blount is known for (between the tackles) isn’t as showcased in those sessions.
But Blount appeared a bit slow and plodding in the running game, not hitting the holes as quickly as Stevan Ridley or Bolden did, and we remarked upon it several times. Blount also lacks the skill in the screen game that the other backs on the roster including Bolden possess, so he’s firmly on the bubble right?
Wrong. With a standout performance on Friday night against the Eagles in the first pre-season game, Blount not only showed he’s still relevant in the running game but may have vaulted over Bolden on the depth chart to make the 53 man roster.
Blount carried 11 times for 101 yards against an admittedly poor Philadelphia run defense. He also had a highlight reel 51 yard touchdown in the second quarter. With the Patriots clinging to a 17-14 lead, Blount took a handoff from QB Ryan Mallett and attempted to sweep to the left. Finding no room to run and the Eagles penetrating the line of scrimmage, Blount reversed and upon hitting the far hash marks, cut back against the grain and then raced down the sideline to reach the end zone.
Blount is listed as 6’ 250 lbs and when running north-south is a load to tackle ala Brandon Jacobs when he was with the Giants. On Friday night he showed plenty of athleticism, even vaulting over would be tacklers similar to how he did in his rookie season in Tampa Bay.
It is easy to envision what the Patriots coaches saw when making the trade this spring for Blount giving up Jeff Demps and a late round draft pick when running like he was on Friday. He showed that he can still run very effectively and could be a great boost to the running game and give Ridley a breather.
On Saturday Patriots head coach Bill Belichick in an interview with the media had this to say about Blount’s performance: “LeGarrette ran for 1,007 yards whatever it was, his rookie season — it’s not like he hasn’t performed well in this league before,” he said.
“We traded for a player that we thought was a good player. It’s no shock he can run the ball. We all know that. He did a nice job last night,” Belichick added.
The first three slots for the running backs are pretty much etched in stone with Ridley, Shane Vereen and Leon Washington virtual locks to make the roster. Blount, Bolden, George Winn as well as fullbacks Ben Bartholomew and James Develin are battling it out for one and possibly two more running back slots.
Bolden was slowed by off-season surgery and missed spring workouts while in a walking boot. He missed some practice time during camp with an injury but did get some limited reps near the end of the game, carrying 4 times for 14 yards. He was also flagged with a running into the kicker foul during a punt which gave the Eagles a fresh set of downs.
So the competition for the 4th running back slot on the roster just got a little more heated as Blount made a nice jump over the competition. It’s hardly over at this point but with his former team the Buccaneers coming in for joint practices, followed by a pre-season game next Friday, look for him to be really focused with something to prove.
Bolden and the rest of the backs vying for that slot will have their work cut out for them. Just one of the little sub-plots in training camp that make the whole process fun to watch.