FOXBOROUGH — Brandon Bolden has always been a battler.
From the time he arrived in New England in 2012 as an undrafted running back from Ole Miss via Baton Rouge, Bolden has fought and clawed his way onto the roster and into the lineup season after season with indefatigable play and infectious energy.
Bolden even battled last season after he decided to opt out over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Those battles were a bit different, however.
“That was my first time ever being a fan of football, just sitting down and watching it, going to a family member’s house,’’ Bolden said. “I was telling the guys when I first got back, ‘You just don’t know how many times me and my family members actually got into a yelling arguments about you guys.’ ‘’
Bolden is ecstatic to have those domestic dustups behind him — they always were about him defending his team (“Those are my guys out there so I’m cheering for them, regardless”) — and back to fighting on the football field.
“It’s been awesome, just to be gone for that year and to come back and it’s like nothing changed at all, really,” said Bolden. “Everybody welcomed me back and I was happy to be back.”
When camp started, Bolden was projected to have his normal role as a core special teamer while providing valuable depth on offense. Things change quickly in the NFL, however, and the nine-year veteran has risen up the depth chart.
Sony Michel was traded, James White (hip) was lost for the season, and ball security has been an issue for younger backs Damien Harris (who is also dealing with a rib injury), Rhamondre Stevenson, and J.J. Taylor. Through all the changes, Bolden has been a steadying presence.
He acknowledges this may be the first time he’s been the oldest guy in the running back room, though he’s been readily available to keep the positive vibes going, especially when guys are prone to moping after fumbles.
“That happens. You’ve got to keep your head up and you’ve got to grind for the next play,” Bolden tells them. “You know what it feels like to do it, so try to keep yourself from having that feeling again.”
Bolden’s vast knowledge of the offense allows Josh McDaniels to slot him in any number of packages.
“He’s always ready to go offensively on any down or any situation that we use him in, and he’s been productive in all those roles,’’ McDaniels said.
Bolden said he attends every meeting, regardless of the position grouping, so he can stay sharp and fill those multiple roles on offense or special teams.
“He’s such a high-intelligent person and player that we’re able to put him in multiple positions and he is able to pick it up and respond, which gives us a lot of flexibility for sure,” said special teams coordinator Cam Achord.
“Sometimes there’ll be a situation, something happens or a guy goes down and it’s like they just need someone to go in and do whatever,” said Bolden, “and I’m right there because I was paying attention and I can do the basics of what needs to be done.
“Now, can I go out there and do it like the person, for example James? No, I can’t go out there and do it like James, but I can do it to the best of my ability, and I appreciate them for even giving me the chance to do half the things they let me do.”
Forever a favorite of Tom Brady, Bolden has developed a relationship with the new quarterback in town, Mac Jones.
“I love Mac. Mac’s a great kid,” Bolden said. “He’s one of those stereotypical quarterback movies, the young guy doesn’t know anything and I’m the old guy just sitting there twiddling my thumbs, just go pick his brain a little bit and then try to find some common ground.
“Just learning how he sees everything opposed to how the coaches taught us to see everything and just trying to make everything work, make it easier for him because he’s out there calling the plays and everything else. So if there’s anything that any one of us can do to help make it any easier for him — which he doesn’t need much help — but if there’s anything that we can do, we sit down and then we talk about it.
“Me and Mac have been joking around pretty much every day since he’s been here.”
Bolden treats Jones similarly to the way he treats all his teammates.
“I’m pretty much, ‘Hey Mac, get that look off your face. Mac, head up,’ ” said Bolden. “Stuff like that, just a couple of reassurance-type deals.
“I’m pretty much the guy to get everybody ahead and off their butt and remind everybody to have fun and this is a game that not everybody is privileged to play and just trying to be the guy to bring them the high spirits and everything else.”
And speaking of positive vibes, Bolden has long held the title of unofficial DJ in the Patriots locker room for his wide variety of musical tastes and booming box. This year, however, he’s been sharing the duties with Matt Judon.
Bolden and Judon don’t always have the same type of music going — they’ll have music battles on opposite ends of the locker room — but have struck common ground at the end of the week.
“On Fridays, I’m playing pretty much anything from all ’80s and ’90s music, and recently we all got on the same page, so he’ll even jump in with some new jack swing and stuff like that,” said Bolden. “It’s been fun.”