BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots retooled at running back in the offseason and began training camp on Thursday with a deep group at the position, including both new and returning faces. But none of their current backs appear to be potential replacements for the power role that LeGarrette Blount played.
It appeared that the signings of Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead, along with the returning James White and Dion Lewis, signaled that the Patriots would move away from using a “power back” as a major component of the offense. But Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears said on Wednesday that they are still looking to fill the void left by Blount in the early-down power role.
“Somebody has to play big for us. We have enough guys we know can play finesse football. Somebody has to play power football for us. We have to find out who is going to do that,” said Fears.
He added that White played a power back role at times when he played for the Wisconsin Badgers, despite standing at just 5-foot-10. Fears believes that one of the team’s current backs can still step up and assume the power back role, despite the group’s relative lack of size.
Broadcasting from Gillette Stadium for the first day of Patriots training camp on Thursday, 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Zolak & Bertrand agreed that Gillislee will be earmarked for that role in 2017. At 5-foot-11 and 218 pounds, Gillislee isn’t exactly small. He often played a heavier role for the Bills to complement the shiftier LeSean McCoy, especially in games against the Patriots.
“When Gillislee got the ball, it’s [straight] up and down, he covers [the football] with both hands, ducks the shoulder, goes right between the tackles, there’s no wussy-footing around,” said Scott Zolak. “That’s what [the Patriots] need.”
Blount excelled at the goal line in 2016 as the Patriots’ primary early-down back, leading the NFL with 18 rushing touchdowns. However, Blount averaged just 3.9 yards per carry in the regular season and struggled mightily in Super Bowl LI against the Falcons, rushing 11 times for just 31 yards (a 2.82-yard average) and losing a fumble.
The Patriots could stand to improve at the power back spot, especially in terms of per-carry production. Gillislee appears to be the most likely choice to play that role, but it appears that there will be an open competition for it.
Listen to Zolak & Bertrand’s full podcast on the Patriots running backs above!