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In backfields across the National Football League over the past few years, the idea of having a “feature back” has gone by the way side in favor of the widely used “running back by committee” philosophy. Backs take a pounding, maybe more than any other position on the field. To preserve a running back’s health and longevity, teams have adopted the two-, three-, or four-headed rushing attack, making “feature backs” almost completely a thing of the past.
Nowhere in the league is that more prevalent than here with the New England Patriots. The Pats haven’t had a true “feature back” since they brought in bad boy Corey Dillon. Since then, their record-setting passing offense has… well… set a ton of records, while the team’s running game has taken a back seat. But entering the 2010 season, with Brady’s binky Wes Welker questionable to start the regular season after a major knee injury and depth at receiver seriously lacking behind Randy Moss, could this be the year that coach Bill Belichick starts to lean on his backs to manage the clock more and be the spark to the offense?
If that’s what he decides to do, he will have a stable of accomplished backs to pick and choose from. No real new faces in the bunch, as the five players who will likely get the fair share of the ground duties were with the team last season. Here now, we take a closer look at the Pats’ backfield bunch.
The former Minnesota Golden Gopher is entering his fifth season with the Patriots, after New England spent their first round pick on Maroney back in 2006. Coming off an ’09 season where he posted a career-high nine touchdowns, Maroney is entering a contract year, meaning what he does this season will dictate how much buzz he can generate in free agency next summer, assuming there isn’t a work stoppage. If #39 wants to become the #1 back on the depth chart, he will have to sure up his hands this coming year. Maroney’s fumbling woes have been talked about for his entire career with the Pats, quite often earning him a seat in Belichick’s doghouse. If he can’t take care of the football, the Pats have plenty of other options in the backfield to turn to, and if Maroney doesn’t have a productive 2010 season, you can bet this will be the last you’ll see of him in a Pats uniform.
Now 33 years old, Sammy Morris is a 10-year NFL veteran with a lot of miles on his tires. A knee injury kept Morris out of four games last season, and after that he really couldn’t get his engine pumping. He ran for 10 or more carries in just two of his 12 games last year and scored only twice. After a 2008 campaign that saw Morris set career highs in rushing yards (727), rushing attempts (156), and TDs (7), my thoughts are that we won’t see anything anywhere close to that production out of an aging Morris this season. That doesn’t mean he can’t be a contributing member of the RB tandem, but the days of relying on him for a full day’s work are long gone.
Speaking of “miles on his tires,” Taylor, the long time Jacksonville Jaguar, enters his 13th NFL season, after enduring an injury-plagued 2009 season that saw him appear in just six of the team’s regular season games. His career stats are no doubt impressive, but don’t expect the veteran to pad those stats too much in 2010. He’s got almost 2,500 career carries weighing down those aging legs, so production from Taylor will likely be minimal at best, this coming season.
While his best days are clearly well behind him, Kevin Faulk comes into the 2010 season knowing his role and knowing how to do it well. The career Patriot, while the same age as Fred Taylor, still finds ways to produce and adds something new to the team every time he touches the ball. Sure, his numbers aren’t going to make you fantasy football junkies pick him early in your upcoming drafts, if at all. But his value to the Pats is leaps and bounds above his value on your fantasy team. Putting that now famous “4th and 2″ play in Indy last season aside, no one is better on the team at grinding out tough third and fourth down short yardage plays than Faulk. Heck, it’s the main reason, and maybe the only reason, he remains a participating member of this team after all these years. Look for that participation to continue in 2010.
They call him “The Law Firm,” based on his uniquely long name. But Belichick hardly called him at all last season, after a rookie year in 2008 when he made a splash onto the scene, highlighted by a 105-yard performance against the Bills late in that season. 2009 was a disappointing year for Green-Ellis, who totaled just 114 yards on the ground over 12 games, being forced to sit on the sidelines as a day-of-game inactive four other times last year. At only 25 though, and with a trio of veteran backs ahead of him on the depth chart, all just a carry away from breaking down completely, Green-Ellis is poised and ready to jump back in and carry the rock for the Pats when called upon.