FOXBORO – The Patriots’ leading rusher in 2014 was Jonas Gray (89 carries, 412 yards). In 2013, it was Stevan Ridley (178 for 773) and in 2012 it was also Ridley (290 for 1,263). Prior to Ridley carrying 290 times, the only time since 2006 that a Patriots back had over 200 carries was BenJarvus Green-Ellis in 2010 (229).
The Patriots – much to the consternation of fantasy owners – spread the ball around among their running backs.
But the stage seems set this season for LeGarrette Blount to be the lead back the Patriots can lean on. And he wants that job.
“I don’t know who our No. 1 guy is,” Blount said Thursday after a Patriots OTA practice. “Sometimes we started the game (in 2014) with Shane (Vereen), sometimes we started the game with me, sometimes we started the game with Brandon (Bolden). I don’t know who our No. 1 back is but I know I will work my butt off to try and maximize my chances of being that guy.”
With Ridley gone to the Jets and Vereen to the Giants, the glut of experienced backs doesn’t exist this year. There’s Gray, Bolden, second-year man James White and newcomers Travaris Cadet and Dion Lewis (both seemingly third down backs) and Tyler Gaffney, a second-year player that lost his rookie season to an ACL injury.
In both of his seasons with the Patriots (Blount came aboard late in 2014 after being released by the Steelers), he needed a break to ascend to lead back status. In 2013, it was Ridley’s fumble problems. In 2014, Blount emerged after Gray followed up a breakout game against the Colts with a spate of tardiness that got him benched.
Blount looks different this spring. More streamlined. Asked if he lost weight, Blount smiled and said, “Maybe.” He then added, “I’ve been working hard. Anything to improve. I’ve been working pretty hard.
Blount’s high-water mark for NFL carries came in his rookie season with Tampa when he ran 201 times in 13 games. Dropping weight to increase his endurance could be an indication that the Patriots may be looking to ride one guy more than they usually do. It’s unlikely, though, that the team would shelve its pattern of divvying up reps to the point Blount approaches 300 carries. They will still be a matchup team that cycles players through.
Blount was asked about the departures of Ridley and Vereen and his role as a more veteran player.
“We got a good group,” he said. “They learn on the fly just like I learn on the fly. We’re all getting a lot of stuff thrown at us. You just gotta study your playbook, study and make sure you don’t fall behind. I just do everything I can to make sure I set a good example for whoever’s looking up to me and whoever’s behind me. I just do whatever it takes to get better and stay on the field and that’s doing whatever they ask me to do.”
These OTAs, Blount said, are where the finishing touches are being put on the offense the Patriots will begin running in late July when training camp begins.
“After we leave here, I’m gonna have everything that I need to come to training camp,” he said. “Everything’s installed that we’re getting right now, all the new stuff, so that will be big for me to help me get better and stay on track for everything that they want me to do. You gotta go back to the basics (at this time of year). We were off for a while, vacation, we’re just getting back in the swing of things and we’re having everything thrown at us at once. We just gotta be able to stay on top of it.”
In his time with the Patriots, Blount has pleasantly surprised. Now, though, the expectations are going to be higher because of his experience and he doesn’t want any letdowns.
“Anything they tell me to do I make sure I’m prepared for it,” he explained. “Whatever it is, whatever things they ask me to do, I’m ready for it. … I just want to make sure I know it and they have full confidence in me that I know what to do.”