FOXBORO -- Now that the Patriots know they'll be without LeGarrette Blount for the remainder of the season, the question is who will be the "next man up?"
The most likely candidate is Brandon Bolden, who filled in for Blount after Blount suffered a hip injury in the second quarter of New England's win over the Texans on Sunday night. The fourth-year running back ran for 51 yards on 16 carries and force six missed tackles with his hard-charging running style.
Primarily a special teams contributor during his career in New England, Bolden has served as a valuable backup for the team as he has been able to handle the duties of both "passing back" and "big back." Back in Week 9, it was Bolden who took the running back reps after Dion Lewis suffered a torn ACL against Washington. In that game he caught three passes for 27 yards and a touchdown.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick lauded Bolden for his overall skill set in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.
"He has been a valuable guy for us on all four downs, so whether it’s carrying the ball, making tough yards, playing as a sub back and playing in the kicking game, he’s shown a lot of versatility and given us a lot of quality plays in all those situations," Belichick said. "I think his skill set is really, really good. He’s got good quickness. He’s got the ability to break tackles in space with his playing strength, but he also has quickness to make guys miss out there, too."
Belichick pointed out one play made by Bolden in Houston that stood out to him in the fourth quarter. With the Patriots trying to salt away the game with a 21-point lead, Bolden took a handoff on third-and-eight and ran for 11 yards and a game-ending first down. Though it appeared as though the play was designed to go to the right -- left guard Shaq Mason pulled to that side -- Bolden cut back to where there was more space, ran through an attempted tackle by safety Will Demps, and got the necessary yardage for a new set of downs that allowed the Patriots to run out the clock.
"He’s got good run vision, sees the holes and sees where there is space," Belichick said. "The play that he made at the end of the game last week in Houston was a really good cut, good play on his part. I don’t think we had the play blocked for the kind of yards he made on that play. He got six or seven yards with his vision and getting the ball into space on the cut back and probably made another four or five yards just with his running strength and balance to knock over a couple tacklers and pick up the first down.
"Probably a little over half that yardage came on his vision, his run instinct and then a few extra yards came on his physical running style and balance. I think that run is a good indication of all those things being a part of his playing style and effectiveness."
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was also complimentary of Bolden's versatile abilities when he spoke to reporters on Tuesday. When it comes to some of the things that don't show up in the box score -- ball security, pass protection -- Bolden can handle those duties as well.
"He’s carried the ball in cold, sloppy weather and protected it for us as he’s matured and grown in our system," McDaniels said. "He’s a dependable guy. We trust him to blitz pick-up. We trust him to be in the game in those critical situations when you get a lot of different looks from the defense.
"He studies hard. He’s a guy that comes to work and prepares well. There’s always been a lot of talent with Brandon and his dependability, and his ability to do a lot of different things within our offense has just improved with each year that he’s been here. Brandon’s a good runner and he does a lot of things that are really valuable to our football team whether it be on offense or in the kicking game. We’ll try to certainly do the best thing we can here going forward in terms of how we use him among the rest of our backs."