Patriots feature varied group of running backs
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Practice was ending for the Patriots when running back Stevan Ridley got into a shoving match with cornerback Kyle Arrington.
“It’s camp, man, it’s camp,” New England’s top rusher said. “We’re competitive out here.”
Arrington knocked Ridley to the ground following a pass completion on the final play of yesterday’s session, the fifth straight day of training camp practice. Then came the shoves, a minor incident lasting just seconds.
“At this point of camp, we’re tired of going up against the same guys every day,” Arrington said. “Tempers flare, but it stays on the field.”
The Patriots practice for two days in Philadelphia next week before Friday night’s exhibition opener against the Eagles.
It will be New England’s first chance to see how its group of young running backs does in game action. Ridley and Shane Vereen are entering their third pro seasons, while LaGarrette Blount, obtained in April in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, heads into his fourth.
“This running back group is very young,” said Ridley, who rushed for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. “It’s a bunch of different style runners ... but I think that we have pretty much every runner that we need. We have receivers out of the backfield. We have power runners. We have slashers.
“We’re going to work as one unit and we’re going to get it done, however we have to get it done, on the ground.”
The Patriots may rely more on the rushing game this year after their massive turnover in receiving personnel.
Six of their 12 wide receivers are rookies. Their top two from last year – Wes Welker with 118 catches and Brandon Lloyd with 74 – are gone. Julian Edelman was third among the wide receivers with 21 catches but could start the season on the physically unable to perform list, requiring him to miss the first six games.
At tight end, Aaron Hernandez was cut after being arrested and then charged with murder, and Rob Gronkowski could open the season on the physically unable to perform list while recovering from back surgery.
“I hope that the offense has enough versatility and flexibility built within it so that we can do what we need to do to win with the players that we have,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Blount is a power runner. He rushed for 1,007 yards as a rookie in 2010 but only 131 in 13 games last season.
“I’m expecting to do whatever they need me to do,” he said.
Vereen could assume some of the role Danny Woodhead played as a third-down back and receiver out of the backfield. Woodhead signed a free-agent deal with the San Diego Chargers after catching 40 passes last season.
“We’ve added a few guys, but the offense calls for all of us to do a lot of things,” Vereen said. “We have a long way to go as a group. Everybody has their things that they need to work on, including myself.”
Leon Washington also could play a receiving role. The Patriots signed the 31-year-old free agent primarily to return kicks, but he was a productive pass catcher with the New York Jets in his first three seasons from 2006-08.
“He’s played (running back) before but not a lot recently with the Seahawks,” Coach Bill Belichick said. “We’ll put him in our system, teach him the things that he needs to learn at that position, evaluate him with the other players.”
The Patriots will have a day off before resuming practice tomorrow. They plan to practice with the Eagles next Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I’m excited because we’re that much closer to the season getting rolling,” Ridley said. “Camp is back-to-back days looking at the same coaches, the same players, and the first preseason game really can’t come soon enough.
“We’re out here beating up on each other and working hard, but Philadelphia’s coming up soon.”
Blount will get to see his college coach at Oregon, Chip Kelly, who is in his first season with the Eagles. Kelly ran an uptempo offense at Oregon, and the Patriots often run plays without huddling.
“It’s kind of tough just learning this (Patriots) offense,” Blount said, “but my experience at Oregon helps me a little with that.”
∎ Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Gronkowski held an extensive conversation on the sideline. Kraft also talked with backup quarterback Ryan Mallett on the field while the team was conducting field goal practice.
∎ Wide receiver Aaron Dobson, a potential starter after being drafted in the second round, did not practice. The Patriots did not give a reason.
∎ Free agent tight end Zach Sudfeld got an animated congratulations from quarterback Tom Brady after making a diving catch.