Second in a series on the Patriots’ status at each position group heading into training camp.
New England’s running back corps was devastated by injuries from start to finish last season as it lost fullback James Develin in the preseason, tailback Dion Lewis in midseason, and bruiser LeGarrette Blount near the end of the season.
The result was an anemic ground game late in the campaign that carried over to the postseason. A return to health by those three backs would go along way in achieving the balance desired by offensive coordinators.
Develin (leg) and Lewis (knee) made it back onto the field this spring, but Blount (hip) wasn’t spotted, leaving his status somewhat in doubt.
Lewis injected life into the offense in 2015 with his ability to run, catch, and pass block. He is a man of a million moves and can accelerate and decelerate fluidly. Lewis (5 feet 8 inches, 195 pounds) fit a season’s worth of highlights into his seven games, with his one-handed touchdown snag against the Cowboys (linebacker Jack Crawford is still looking for him) the best of the bunch.
Lewis was unrestricted and brace-free at the final spring organized team activity that media was allowed to attend. He said following the workout he followed the trainers’ rehab program but was happy “to be doing football stuff” again.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Patriots kept Lewis in bubble wrap until the Sept. 11 opener. The team knows what he brings to the table, so there’s no reason to risk another injury during the exhibition games.
The fact that Blount was re-signed in the offseason means the team feels good about his ability to bounce back from the injury. He’s another known commodity who embraces his role as a battering ram who can find holes and also use his muscle to create running room. When he’s in a groove, the 6-foot, 250-pounder can wear down a defense.
Blount is the perfect complement to Lewis and he’s another candidate to see minimal — if any — action during preseason games.
If Blount struggles during camp, another big body could be brought in to challenge for a spot. Arian Foster, who can run and catch but has trouble staying healthy, and Knowshon Moreno, who can be a workhorse but wouldn’t have to be in Foxborough, are possibilities.
Veterans Brandon Bolden, James White, and Donald Brown will battle for two spots.
Bolden (5-11, 220) is a jack-of-all-trades back. He can run the ball, he can catch the ball, and he can protect the guy throwing the ball. He’s also a special teams standout.
White (5-10, 205) is quick and shifty and shows playmaking flashes but still has trouble consistently breaking tackles and making yards on his own. He has made great strides as a receiver and that’s huge in this offense.
Brown (5-10, 207) is a steady, dependable player who could grab a roster spot with a standout camp, but the former first-rounder may be a victim of a numbers game.
Joey Iosefa (6 feet, 245) and Tyler Gaffney (6 feet, 220) are hybrid backs who are on the bubble but could surprise.
Undrafted rookie D.J. Foster (6 feet, 195) looked crisp and comfortable during OTAs and minicamp until he tweaked a hamstring and missed the final media session. Foster is versatile (he has great hands) and would be a practice squad lock if he doesn’t sneak onto the 53.
Develin (6-3, 255) is a solid, tough veteran who would run through a wall for his teammates, and they love him for it.
Jim McBride can be reached at email@example.com.