FOXBORO, Mass. — Head coach Bill Belichick has made it abundantly clear in his 15 years building New England Patriots teams that he won’t pay top dollar for a running back.
Belichick’s refusal to spend on a lead back was in full display this offseason when the Patriots let last year’s starter, LeGarrette Blount, walk in free agency for a two-year, $3.85 million contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That can’t be overly encouraging for Patriots running backs Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley or Brandon Bolden, who are entering contract years. Vereen said he’s not approaching this season any differently, however.
“Contract or no contract, I’m always going to work hard,” Vereen said Wednesday during a Patriots Play 60 event at Igo Elementary School.
The Patriots won’t have to start over at the position without Blount, since they have Vereen, Ridley and Bolden, who combined for 355 touches last season, but Belichick will have to rearrange their reps.
Vereen is ready for anything, but he said it’s too soon to know if he’ll have more carries on first and second downs.
“We’ll see as the game plans come out and as the weeks get going,” Vereen said. “It’s only been one day, so we got a ways to go.”
Blount has been replaced by fourth-round draft pick James White, future signing Jonas Gray and two undrafted rookies — Stephen Houston and Roy Finch. Vereen and Ridley likely will have to take on the bulk of Blount’s old workload, however.
“We’re still a corps, we’re still close, we’re still a good group,” Vereen said about Blount’s departure to the Steelers. “We hate to see LG go — he was a big part of us. But that’s part of the game, and we gotta move on and we gotta still be productive.”
Vereen said the rookies are adapting well to the Patriots’ system, despite being put through the ringer by coaches.
“It’s a good group, they work hard,” Vereen said about White, Houston and Finch. “I haven’t heard many complaints, which is good. Mostly just going to work. Coaches are pushing them and they’re pushing themselves, so it’s encouraging.”
Vereen has a new personal backup on third down — the similarly sized White, for whom the fourth-year pro had nothing but praise.
“We’re the smaller ones, but it’s all good,” Vereen said. “We got a lot of heart.”