FOXBOROUGH — Tom Brady’s debut with his new-look receiving corps Friday night was eagerly anticipated, but when No. 12 took the field for the first of two drives on the evening, the plays went like this:
Handoff Stevan Ridley, gain of 62 yards. Handoff LeGarrette Blount, gain of 8 yards. Handoff Blount, gain of 1 yard. Handoff Blount, gain of 3 yards. Handoff Ridley, gain of 5 yards. Handoff Ridley, 1-yard touchdown.
Six plays, 80 yards, no pass attempts needed.
Left guard Logan Mankins liked the teamwork involved in the drive.
“The backs did a really good job,” he said Monday. “There were some good holes, and they read them right. When they do that, you see the results. Every once in a while you’ll pop a big run like Ridley had there.”
If the passing game experiences growing pains in the coming weeks, the ground game is there for the Patriots. Running backs Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, Leon Washington, and Blount are all experienced and have produced.
In front of them is a veteran line that welcomes the challenge of opening holes for teammates.
“Whatever is necessary, but I think every offensive lineman likes to run the ball: you have a guy in front of you, and you see who wins,” right tackle Sebastian Vollmer said. “You go forward instead of backwards [in run blocking], so definitely I feel like it favors offensive linemen.
“But you know, if you throw the ball, you better block them — you have 12 [Brady] behind you, want to keep him upright.”
Brady trumpeted the work of the line Friday night, and again on Monday morning during an interview with WEEI.
“To be able to run the ball in on the first series was a great feeling, gratifying for everybody,” Brady said. “Offensive football and being tough and aggressive starts with running the football. We ran it pretty well all night.
“We’re going to need to continue to do that. Running the football is so critical to the success of your team, so critical to the toughness — especially running it when they know you’re going to run it. You can’t play finesse, seven-on-seven type football in the NFL and expect to win on a consistent basis. It’s just too hard.”
The Patriots’ offensive line has been one of the better units in the league in recent years, despite injuries and/or turnover at every spot. They are a prideful bunch, led by tireless coach Dante Scarnecchia, who has turned many a practice-squad player or castoff into a contributor.
Never was that more evident than last year. The offensive line struggled in the preseason, with Nate Solder in his first season as the starting left tackle, Brian Waters going AWOL — leading to Dan Connolly being kicked to right guard — and Ryan Wendell being elevated to starting center.
But by the end of the season, the group had paved the way for Ridley’s 1,263 yards; as a team, New England led the league in rushing attempts with 523, and its 2,184 yards were the most for the team since 2008.
They of course want to at least replicate that success, but Mankins says it is a work in progress.
“You never know — some games we do a good job [run blocking] and some games it’s not so good, so we’d like to have more good games than not,” he said. “Sometimes the defense is just doing a better job than we are, and we’re not running as good as we want to.
“We’re improving daily. We’re nowhere close to where we want to be, but we are getting better, our fits are getting better, technique’s getting better, conditioning’s getting better, so each day gets a little bit better.”
Mankins is fortunate in that the two men he works most closely with — Solder to his left and Wendell to his right — are the same as last year, which helps a great deal.
“Oh, definitely,” he said. “The two guys that I get to work with, they’ve been there every day with me, so that’s a huge factor. There’s a lot of trust built in there and just repetitions of doing the same thing next to a guy over and over, you’ve got each other down and know exactly where they’re going to be.”
For Vollmer, however, things have been the opposite. Since camp began, he’s worked with Connolly, Marcus Cannon, Tyronne Green, and now Will Svitek as right guard.
He’d prefer the consistency he had with Connolly last year, but he sees benefits to his situation as well.
“Obviously you never plan on that, but that’s kind of what camp is for — you never know; you practice different combinations,” Vollmer said. “Last week, I think Will did himself really well, and you just work on your communication, you work on things, and it kind of trains me to communicate a little better. Playing next to Dan for a couple of years you know how you do things, you don’t have to talk as much.
“I think it’s good, especially for training camp; you never know what’s going to happen, so it’s always good to play next to a different guy and develop that relationship.”Shalise Manza Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.