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Crowded Backfield – Who’s the Main Man New England?

8-01-09

The Patriots have five guys who could conceivably start…and five guys that could conceivably not. The problem? They’re the same five guys. A team that has made a habit of dominating the ground game is opening the season as Super Bowl favorites, but if there’s any chink in the armor of the Patriots, its in the backfield. Ever since “Clock Killin’” Corey Dillon retired in 2006, the Patriots have lacked a true running-back. So who’s the leading man, and can the Pats recreate their sixth ranked rushing attack, which averaged 142.4 yards per game?

Laurence Maroney (93 yards, 0 touchdowns in 2008)

Maroney was supposed to be the main man in New England when he was drafted out of Minnesota four seasons ago. At just 24, Maroney has had plenty of time to prove his worth to New England. But in three seasons, Maroney has just 12 touchdowns and 1,673 yards. Granted, last year, he was injured, but his career totals are less than Adrian Peterson’s production last season. One more bad year and Maroney will forever be in Belichik’s bad books.

Fred Taylor (556 yards, 1 touchdown in 2008)

Taylor is perhaps the new workhorse in the Patriots’ backfield. At 33 years of age, the Florida Gators product has been disavowing reports of his over-exaggerated demise for the past 12 years. Besides his injury riddled 2001 season, last year was Taylor’s worst year. He played in 13 games, but lost way to Jones-Drew in Jacksonville where he has played his entire career.

Now, as a Patriot, Taylor has the chance to steal the show. We all know he’s smart enough, fast enough and cunning enough…but is he reliable at his age with so much mileage on his legs?

Sammy Morris (727 yards, 7 touchdowns in 2008)

Morris was a standout in Miami, but good never get out of the shadow of Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams. In New England, Morris is relegated as a backup, but was the he steadiest producer last season. The good news for Morris is that Belichik notes his value in his size (Morris is 220 pounds). Given the opportunity, Morris can be the man. But he’s viewed across the league as a goal-line guy, or backup, at best.

Kevin Faulk (507 yards, 3 touchdowns in 2008)

Entering the pictures, as he always does, is the 33 year old Faulk, who has been a perennial third-down back in New England. In 15 games active last season, Faulk averaged just 5.5 attempts per game. He’s certainly not a guy to steal the spotlight, but he’s definitely a guy who can steal carries.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis

He may sound like he has four last names, but the second year player out of Mississippi averaged 3.7 yards per carry last season and rumbled to five touchdowns. He’s a big boy at 215 pounds, and is of good height at 5-foot-11. If anyone is the heir apparent to the aging Taylor, or the busting Maroney, it’s Green-Ellis. Still the kid is raw, and Belichik relies on veterans, so his chances of becoming the feature back are slim this year.

See what I mean? Five decent guys are crowding a backfield that will certainly have veterans Morris and Taylor whining for carries, while Maroney struggles to prove himself (anyone order a fumble from a guy trying too hard?) and BJGE sits wasted on the bench. These are five decent options, but there’s not one great option in the bunch.

The Patriots have made a mandate out of overwhelming the roster with underachieving stars in their twilight years, but their running-back situation is looking a lot like their receiver corps did in the pre-Randy Moss era. No star in the backfield could mean no Super Bowl for the Patriots, especially if Tom Brady’s knee’s health is being over exaggerated.

Most teams truck forward with two solid options. Adrian Peterson has Chester Taylor. Cadillac has Derrick Ward. Even the bulky Brandon Jacobs has Ahmad Bradshaw. An aging LaDanian Tomlinson is being usurped by Darren Sproles. The difference between all these pairings, and the five guys in New England? We all know who the top dog is in those duos. We can’t say the same thing about New England’s five-man band.

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