FOXBORO -- When given opportunities, both Dion Lewis and James White have shined in the role of Patriots third-down back this preseason. Both played well in a win two weeks ago over the Saints, and Lewis produced again last week against the Panthers with a nine-yard touchdown reception.

Still, there has been no clear-cut winner for the job that was vacated when Shane Vereen signed with the Giants as a free agent this offseason.

Travaris Cadet remains in the mix though he has dealt with a hamstring injury that has kept him off the field for all three of the Patriots preseason games to this point.

Also a factor in the competition is Brandon Bolden, who has primarily served as a special-teamer during his tenure in New England. Against the Panthers, he saw the most snaps (19) of any back in the third-down conversation, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised Bolden this week as someone who could line up in the backfield in any situation.

"I think Brandon has shown the ability to play on all three downs," Belichick said. "He can run. He can pass protect. He can play in the passing game and catch, and he’s a smart player. He can handle a volume of offensive formations and assignments and so forth. I think he’s a pretty versatile player."

Belichick explained that Bolden -- who had not played a single offensive snap in either of the team's first two preseason games -- had an increased workload in Carolina because, in essence, it was his turn.


"Sometimes," Belichick said, "we feel like it’s better to give one guy a longer dose in this game and not play another player, and then maybe reverse or switch those around in other games."

Bolden is an interesting hybrid at the position for the Patriots.

While Lewis (5-foot-8, 195 pounds), White (5-10, 206) and Cadet (6-1, 210) have lighter frames to go along with their dependable hands in the passing game, Bolden (5-11, 220) is sturdier yet has the ability to serve as a receiver out of the backfield. Though he may not possess the same punishing style as LeGarrette Blount (6-0, 250) or Jonas Gray (5-10, 225), Bolden can be a bruising runnerr in his own right.

Bolden's best chance at a consistent role with the Patriots is likely in the kicking game, but he is a dependable back who understands the team's system after three years in Foxboro, and his presence on the roster may further cloud the picture when it comes to the team's role of third-down back.

Belichick admitted that the way the team's running backs have performed this summer will make it difficult for the coaching staff to delegate roles and roster spots.

"It’s definitely made it hard," Belichick said. "We’ve had a lot of guys do that. I think Troy Brown made a comment a couple weeks ago when he said, 'I knew that when I come into the league, I knew it was a longshot for me to make a team and I was probably going to get cut and all that, but I felt like my job every day was to make it as hard as possible for Coach [Bill] Parcells to make that decision. I wanted to make his job tough for him to cut me.'

"And I’d say there have been a number of guys that have done that this year in preseason. They’ve taken that phrase that Troy used, and really they’ve done that. They’ve forced us to make some hard decisions because of how competitively they’ve played. And vice versa, guys at a spot where there is a lot of competition, instead of one or two guys rising up and one or two guys kind of fading out, in some cases several members of that group have all competitively risen the level of their game to make some very tough decisions.

"I would put the running back position in that [category]. We’ve pretty much had the same group. We added Tony [Creecy] a couple weeks ago. We’ve pretty much had that same group since we lost [Tyler] Gaffney, but we have pretty much the same group of guys since the beginning of the spring, with no rookies in that group other than Tony coming in a couple weeks ago. But those guys have all competed well, they’ve all improved, they’ve all pushed each other, they’ve all worked really hard, and they’ve all been productive. It’s a good example of that. They’re making it hard on us."