Cheat Sheet: Each of Pats’ five RBs preparing to be the man in Super Bowl
Seattle’s "Legion of Boom" has a snazzy nickname, endorsement deals and all the attention and media spotlight a defensive backfield could ask for. Deservedly so, too. In Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, Seattle has three of the very best in the game at their respective positions, and Byron Maxwell’s nothing to sneeze at either. You know their names, you know their faces, and you probably know that they have their own "L.O.B" logo-emblazoned shower mats in front of their lockers. They’re arguably the most celebrated position group the league’s seen since The Fun Bunch.
And then there’s the Patriots’ motley crew of running backs.
Five guys who could walk by you in street clothes and go unnoticed. Five guys who each know that they need the other four to even have a chance at ultimate success. And five guys who truly don’t care which one gets the rock on Sundays.
New England was the only team in the league to boast four backs who carried the ball 60 or more times during the regular season, and on any given weekend, a different one could be "the guy."
I’ve spoken to New England’s five healthy tailbacks throughout Super Bowl week, and trust me, they’ve got about as much of an idea who’ll carry the load on Sundays as the frustrated fantasy football owners who spend those early Sunday mornings agonizing over their lineups. They don’t overthink it and they genuinely don’t care — they just know they have to be ready if their number is called, and it’s going to be their day carrying the load.
Take LeGarrette Blount, for example. The bruising back had just three carries in the Patriots’ AFC divisional round 35-31 win over the Ravens. A week later against the Colts, he toted the rock 30 times for 188 yards and scored four touchdowns. Shane Vereen had eight carries and eight receptions against the Lions on Nov. 23. A week later in Green Bay, he touched the ball just four times.
Could such diverse game-planning be frustrating at a position traditionally dedicated to just one or two guys?
"No," laughs Blount. "You’ve just got to prepare like you’re going to be the guy every game. You never know what the situation is going to be. When you’re down 14 points, you’ve got to put the ball in Tom (Brady)’s hands. When the game is more controlled, they let us run the ball a little more."
Jonas Gray had 37 carries for 201 yards and four touchdowns against Indianapolis in Week 11. He’s carried the ball just 18 times in the eight games since. But he’s still preparing as if he may be the bell cow in Super Bowl XLIX.
"You never know who’s going to get the opportunity to play," Gray says. "It’s hard for the defense. In terms of preparation from the individual standpoint, you prepare like you do any week. You really are trying to empty the tank. It’s cool but you just prepare like any other week, but knowing in the back of your mind this is the biggest game of your life."
Blount and Gray are joined by Vereen, Brandon Bolden, rookie James White and injured backs Stevan Ridley and Tyler Gaffney in the New England running backs room. Each player takes on a different personality and serves a different role.
"We’re a real close-knit group of guys," Blount says. "We hang out, group chat all the time, and I feel like the difference between all of us is that we have different body types and are different styles of runners."
Blount looks around the room and points out his fellow backs, calling them out one by one like they’re some sort of traveling rock band. "You have Shane who’s our third-down guy, who catches the football, moves really well in space. You have Rid who can do it all. You’ve got Bolden who, also, can do it all. You’ve got Jonas who runs really hard. And obviously, he ran for 200 yards this season. And then you have a guy like me, who is the biggest guy in the group. I feel like the biggest thing is my balance and my vision."
Bolden, a special teams ace in addition to his work in the backfield, loves the mix of personalities he works with each day. "James White is real quiet. He doesn’t say anything until you make him mad. But when he does open his mouth, watch out. He is probably one of the funniest, nicest guys you’ll ever meet. You’ve got LeGarrette, who might be one of the hardest runners in the room, but the guy is a complete teddy bear off of the field. And then Jonas, who is about the same thing. Shane is a savvy Cali kid, so he’s just what you see on TV. Stevan is a country bum (laughs). Another teddy bear off the field. And then you’ve got me: just a guy trying to compete and have fun."
Gray says the guy with perhaps the most potential is the one who hasn’t gotten much action at all this year. White is on the Patriots 53-man roster but has dressed in only three games. "He’s the grandpa of the group," Gray says of his bearded teammate with a big, hearty laugh. "I know he’s only a rookie, but he’s wise. He just stays quiet, works hard and soaks it all in. When he does say something, we all listen."
Longtime Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears insists that his group is unique, not only for their abilities on the field, but also for their selflessness and devotion to the team’s goals. "Bill [Belichick] and Nick [Cesario] bring in a certain type of man when they sign or draft players. And the men we have in our running backs room are all of the highest quality. They all work their tails off. They practice hard. They work every single day, and it’s always — always — about the team."
Fears, a 61-year old who’s the one remaining Patriots link to the Pete Carroll era, says, "The honors come with wins. They all know this. And without wins, there’s nothing."
So, yes, the Seahawks have a pretty talented position group over in Seattle. But the Patriots have five capable tailbacks who are all more than ready to carry the load if called upon.
Legion of Boom? These guys will level the boom.
SUPER BOWL CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA QUESTION 1
Pete Carroll is the fourth head coach to face off in the Super Bowl against a team he previously coached. Who are the other three?
SUPER BOWL CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA QUESTION 2
Joe Montana (11), Tom Brady (nine) and Terry Bradshaw (nine) make up 1, 2 and 3 on the list of most Super Bowl touchdown passes. Which quarterback has thrown the fourth most with eight?
SUPER BOWL THROWBACK JERSEY OF THE WEEK
It’s tough not to love the vintage Kingdome-era Seahawks jerseys. There’ve been a few I’ve seen roaming around Phoenix this week, but none better than this gem … a 1987 Brian Bosworth ‘Hawks jersey.
And now, on to my pick…
I’ve covered several Patriots games this season. I saw them at their very worst against the Chiefs, their very best against the Colts (twice), and their very average against the Jets (twice). Throw in a win in Minnesota, a loss in Green Bay, and an all-time classic victory over the Ravens in the AFC divisional round, and it’s safe to say I’ve been around this team enough to have a pretty good feel for them.
But that feeling, as weird as it may sound, started back in July.
I was attending a Patriots practice during training camp, and saw 90 players going through a variety of drills on a typical hot summer afternoon. The Patriots’ facility in Foxborough has two fields parallel to one another, and a giant hill where reporters and fans can watch practice. As I awkwardly sprawled out on the hill, I noticed two men subtly step away from the other 88 and walk toward the secondary field, which at the time was going unused.
No. 12 and No. 87. Brady and Gronk.
This was before the season, when, as crazy as it seems now, there actually were questions as to whether Gronkowski would return to his pre-injury form. And here was the 37-year-old quarterback, Tom Brady, entering his 15th season still searching for that elusive fourth Super Bowl ring. Three straight trips to the AFC championship game, and three straight years without a Lombardi Trophy.
The session on the second field started rather casually. Your typical route tree. Curls. Slants. Posts. Brady to Gronk. Then, another guy jogged over. A new face. Darrelle Revis, a player who clearly wasn’t himself the year before in Tampa Bay, lined up against Gronkowski for some one-on -one.
It started off pretty loose. Jogging. Slow motion. Then it heated up. Then, the two All-Pros went at it, full speed, with arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history tossing darts and lasers. Eighty-seven players were on the field adjacent, just three were going at it on the secondary field, and one man was overlooking it all: Belichick.
It was a thing of beauty — a basic football drill that could happen in any front yard in any town in America — only being done by three of the greatest players of their generation.
After five minutes, it was over, and Brady jogged back to the field with the rest of the roster.
But I wrote down in a notebook then that this was the year they got over the hump. This was the year that this team would find a way to slay the dragons and get that elusive fourth Lombardi Trophy. Sometimes you just have a feeling.
Being with this team all week, I’ve seen Danny Amendola cough and sneeze for three straight days. I’ve seen Brady battle a cold of his own. There have been fire alarms in the hotel and an unmistakable swagger from their opponent.
But I’ve also seen a Patriots team that’s overcome a lot this year. This journey might have started on that adjacent practice field in July. And it will end with those three players and their Hall of Fame coach.
This is the year. I’m taking the Patriots.
THE PICK: Patriots 23, Seahawks 18
SUPER BOWL CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA ANSWER 1
Weeb Ewbank, Jon Gruden and Dan Reeves all coached in the Super Bowl against teams that they previously coached.
SUPER BOWL CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA ANSWER 2
Roger Staubach, in four Super Bowl appearances, threw eight touchdown passes, good for fourth-most all-time.