Shane Vereen Ready to Take Danny Woodhead’s Role as Patriots’ Third-Down Running Back

Shane VereenThe Patriots are officially done with OTAs. Now, they’ll turn their attention to minicamp before taking a month-long break to rest and get ready for training camp.

Some injuries befell a few key Patriots during their final week of offseason workouts, including what could well be a severe shoulder injury to cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. Entering his second season, every workout is vital to Dennard’s development into a legitimate cover corner in this league. So, he can ill afford to lose any time.

Jake Ballard, in a similar vein, needs as many reps as he can get with quarterback Tom Brady after missing the entire 2012 season with a torn ACL. The Patriots need him to catch on quickly, too, as Rob Gronkowski heads for his fifth surgery in 12 months and Aaron Hernandez continues his slow progression back onto the field.

Health and depth seem to be the two biggest concerns surrounding the Patriots as they stride along into the final act of their offseason, and fans far and wide have made their concerns well known in this week’s mailbag.

So, without further ado, let’s jump in and see what questions we can answer from the week that was.

Do you think that [Shane] Vereen will be able to take over the role that Danny Woodhead manned last year? And the battle between [Brandon] Bolden and [LeGarrette] Blount looks like an interesting one, but who do you think has the edge? I personally think Blount would be better due to his surprising athleticism and enormous size.
— Chris, Auburn, Calif.

Well thought-out question, Chris. Shane Vereen burst onto the scene toward the end of 2012 and even took over Danny Woodhead‘s role in the divisional playoff game against the Texans. He dominated the Houston defense in that game, firmly establishing himself as the third-down back of the future. He’s looked even more comfortable in that role during OTAs so far this year, and I’d expect him to only get better with time.

As for the LeGarrette Blount vs. Brandon Bolden argument, it’s tough to compare them at this point since Bolden has been sidelined with an ankle injury. Blount’s experience, including his 1,000-yard season in 2010, and his enormous size definitely give him an edge, but Bolden is a lot more versatile and proved what he could do when given the chance last season.

Blount has been slow to fully grasp the offense — or so it seems from what we’ve seen at OTAs — and he’s struggled catching the football at times, even taking a lap after a drop this past week. Right now, I’d give Blount the edge, but only because he’s been the one getting reps out on the field. Training camp will be the ultimate decider in this debate, and it will eventually come down to who is the better fit to back up Stevan Ridley.

With T.J. Moe clearing waivers, what does that allow him to do? Will he have access to the coaches, film room to study film and player meetings or does he just have access to the rehab facility and trainers?
— Stephen S.

Good thought, Stephen. I had to do a little digging on this one.

Players on injured reserve aren’t just restricted to the training staff or strict rehab regiments. They do have access to other players and staff, as well as film rooms and meetings. Jake Ballard, who was on IR for the entire 2012 season, recently broached the subject with us after OTAs, talking about how Gronkowski helped him a lot last season.

“I’m not really sure what Rob’s rehab situation is, but when he was in the meeting rooms he was very helpful and gives advice and we’d obviously watch him play,” Ballard said. “I watched him play all last year. Learned quite a bit from just how he gets open and [I asked] him for pointers and stuff. I’d say we’re pretty similar, but Rob’s faster than me. But I think we can play a similar role.”

So, Moe will have the same sort of access and availability as Ballard, giving him essentially a redshirt year to get healthy and better learn the system.

What’s going on with Aaron Dobson? Why hasn’t he been signed yet?
— @hatesthejets, via Twitter

Aaron Dobson is actually the only Patriots rookie left unsigned. Last year, linebacker Dont’a Hightower didn’t sign until July 18, but he was a first-round pick. There are still tons of draft picks left unsigned, but it will be a bad sign if he’s still without a deal come July.

The new CBA set pay standards for each slot in the draft, so Dobson’s deal should mirror the 59th overall pick in 2012, defensive end Vinny Curry, who just so happens to be a former teammate of his from Marshall.

Curry’s deal with the Eagles was for four years and $3.29 million, including a $807,950 signing bonus and about $1.5 million guaranteed. Dobson should expect something very similar, and, at this point, the two sides are probably left haggling over a few thousand dollars. I’d expect them to get something done in the next week or two.

Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.

Yardbarker

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 191,516 other followers