BOSTON (CBS) — Every year in the NFL, rosters experience turnover. It’s just a part of the business. But rarely does one position from a championship roster change from one year to the next as much as the Patriots’ running backs will this year.

Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley finished one-two in rushing attempts on the Patriots last year. In 2013, Ridley was No. 1. In 2012, Ridley was given 290 carries; Danny Woodhead ranked second on the team with 76.

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Ridley, of course, had his faults, and Vereen never was much of a traditional, between-the-tackles type of runner. Nevertheless, it is a new era in the backfield of the New England offense.

Travaris Cadet (FA), Dion Lewis (FA), Tyler Gaffney (waivers)

Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen

Depth Chart

LeGarrette Blount
Brandon Bolden
Jonas Gray
Travaris Cadet
James White
Dion Lewis
Tyler Gaffney

James Develin (Fullback)


It’s been cloudy at times in years past, but now there will be no doubt: LeGarrette Blount is the Patriots’ No. 1 running back.

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The lack of a clear role for Blount — in a crowded backfield in 2013 with Ridley and Vereen, and then joining the team midseason last year — has led to some general confusion about the Patriots’ running back usage at times. But given how often Bill Belichick has trusted Blount in so many big spots, there will be no question about the 28-year-old being the most reliable runner on the roster.

However, Blount will not be in uniform for Week 1, as he’ll be serving a one-game suspension, stemming from his arrest as a member of the Steelers last year. In Blount’s stead, the Patriots do have options.

Brandon Bolden had just 28 carries last season, but he was handed the ball 111 times combined in the previous two seasons. He’s been more than serviceable with an average of 4.6 yards per carry, and his work on special teams is likely enough to ensure that he’ll be on the roster again this year.

Then there is the wonder known as Jonas Gray. He came out of nowhere last year to famously run for 201 yards and four touchdowns against the Colts in Week 11, and then he was essentially never heard from again. The mystery was not too difficult to solve (Blount joined the team the following week and represented a much better option), yet the idea that he was being punished for months for being late to one practice persisted. While yes, Gray was at least briefly benched for being late to practice, the fact is that he became a backup as soon as Blount joined the roster.

While Gray still represents an unknown (that one game accounts for about 50 percent of his career yardage and 80 percent of his career touchdowns), that one great burst against Indy makes him at least an intriguing player to watch throughout the preseason.

As for a catch-passing back, many have pointed to Travaris Cadet as the heir to Shane Vereen’s throne. That may end up being the case, but Cadet is not necessarily a proven commodity. Last year was the first season in which he’s really compiled stats, and he caught 38 passes for 296 yards and one touchdown, while rushing just 10 times for 32 yards. By comparison, Vereen caught 52 passes for 447 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing 96 times for 391 yards and two touchdowns.

So while Cadet shows promise, the “Vereen Replacement” label may prove to be too much to live up to. Rather than expecting Cadet to step right in and fill that role, it’s more likely that the offense evolves to rely less on the pass-catching running back than in previous seasons.

Then, there is James White. As a rookie out of Wisconsin last year, White showed very little. He gained 80 yards on 29 carries in the preseason, and he got just nine carries for 38 yards in the three regular-season games for which he was active. White is going to need to show more assertiveness and confidence with the ball in his hand in order to earn a spot in a busy backfield with more accomplished players.

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Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here. You can email him or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.