New England has added some much needed depth at the running back position signing veteran back Steven Jackson to a 1-year contract. With Dion Lewis and LaGarrette Blount out with season ending injuries the once dynamic combo of speed and power has been replaced by special team players and practice squad promotions. Jackson will add depth, experience, power running, ball security, and, for the Patriots, will hopefully transition to the offensive system quickly having played under offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in 2011 in St. Louis.
With all the injuries the Pats have suffered Brandon Bolden, a key player in the special teams game who has always taken limited snaps at running back, has become the featured back in the New England offensive. He has been accompanied by the speedy James White who is able to play a vital role in the passing game. However with only two backs on the active roster New England was forced to promote a practice squad player for Sunday’s game against the Titans. Joey Iosefa, a 247-pound fullback who had been cut by Tampa Bay and later picked up by New England, made an impact with 51 yards on 14 carries and one big run in which he bulldozed Tennessee cornerback Coty Sensabaugh.
With New England so thin in the backfield, and with the playoffs and cold weather ahead, signing a veteran back like Steven Jackson looks like a solid move, although Jackson hasn’t played since being released by Atlanta in February. When in a Falcons uniform last season he averaged 3.7 yards per carry in 15 games. The three time Pro Bowler has churned out 11,388 yards over the course of 11 seasons in the NFL playing for Atlanta and St. Louis before that. Now at 32 years old the Patriots hope he has a little left in the tank to propel their running game forward. At 12-2 New England has secured a first round bye and has a great shot at the number one overall seed in the AFC. Over the next few weeks McDaniels and running back coaches will have the opportunity to work with Jackson and integrate him into the current carousel of backs.
If Jackson is able to get on the field quickly this would mean Bolden could get back to his special teams duties with limited touches at running back if needed. It would seem that the apparently explosive James White isn’t going anywhere as he has become a integral part of the Patriots offensive attack, particularly on passing downs. His combination of pass catching and ability to make plays when getting the ball in space gives back a little of the Dion Lewis dimension to the offensive.
The Patriots also recently signed running back Montee Ball to the practice squad, the Denver Broncos 2013 second round draft pick. Ball was productive in his rookie season with 120 carries for 559 yards and four touchdowns. In 2014 a groin injury sidelined him for much of the season before he was ultimately released.
If Jackson can get on the field this Sunday he will face a defense that is second in the NFL against the run for a better-than-expected Jets team currently fighting for a wild card spot.