This is the sixth in a series of position-by-position looks at the Patriots heading into free agency. Today's position: Running backs. Who's on the roster? Eric Kettani, Lousaka Polite, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead. Patriots need level? 4 Position overview? The Patriots lead back the past two seasons, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, is a free agent. He wasn't outstanding in 2011 (often went down on first contact), but he's very sure-handed and dependable. Stevan Ridley's rookie season was promising. He's got more speed through the hole than Green-Ellis and is more elusive at the second level. Fumbling in consecutive games down the stretch was troubling, but that's something coaching and hard work can eliminate. Lousaka Polite and Eric Kettani are fullback types. Shane Vereen had an injury-plagued rookie year. Danny Woodhead is valuable and - when he's on - dangerous. Who's out there? Michael Bush, Raiders. A big, 6-2, 243-pounder whowill be 28 this summer. Has been the backup to Darren McFadden. A decent receiver who has one fumble in his last 414 carries. Mike Tolbert, Chargers. An absolute load at 5-9, 243, he can be elusive and - obviously - a pounder between the tackles. With teams going to more nickel and dime defenses, he's an able pass-catcher (54 catches last year) who can run over DBs if teams are preoccupied with trying to stop a passing attack. Cedric Benson, Bengals. Has fumbled 12 times in the past two seasons. He's on the downside and may be an option for depth but probably not much more even though he's been over 1,000 yards each of the past three seasons. Ryan Grant, Packers. Turns 30 this year and has lost a step but once was an explosive runner (over 1,200 yards in 2008 and 2009). BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots. He's done quite a nice job for the Patriots but he can't expect to get a cash windfall here as a free agent. Peyton Hillis, Browns. He's only 26, but after an outstanding 2010 he got goofy and problematic in Cleveland in 2011. If he sits on the shelf a while, the Patriots may have a look. Other names of note? Kevin Faulk, Ronnie Brown, Mewelde Moore, Tim Hightower. Free agent forecast? If Green-Ellis signs elsewhere, look for the Patriots to hire a veteran a la Fred Taylor as security in case Ridley and Vereen prove unreliable.
FOXBORO -- There seem to be some differing opinions inside Gillette Stadium as to the feel of the third preseason game. Is it a good dress rehearsal for the regular season, or is it just as vanilla as any other preseason matchup?
Example No. 1 comes from coach Bill Belichick's WEEI interview earlier this week:
"In terms of playing time it might be a little different, but in terms of game-planning and strategy, what we see in the regular season compared to what we see the in third preseason game, I don’t even think you’re in the same universe," he said. "We’re still running our basic plays and we’d expect our opponents would run their basic plays.
"You get to the opener and start to get to game-planning and scheme, I mean you’re in a totally different ballpark, in my opinion. I don’t see any comparison at all. It’s too far away, I don’t see how you could compare them, from that standpoint. One-on-one matchups, letting the players play, yeah, I would say you have a better matchup of guys like that, but it’s nothing compared to what we’re going to see in the regular season from a total scheme situation standpoint."
Example No. 2 comes from Martellus Bennett, who opted not to meet with reporters last week when the Bears, his former club, came to town for joint practices.
"All my snaps are full speed," Bennett said when asked about this week's game with the Panthers. "I don't slow down. I just go full speed the whole time so it's just a regular game for me . . . It's always the same whether it's the regular season or preseason. Put my pants on the same way. Put my shoes on the same way. Tie them the same way. Same gloves, same face mask."
Truth is, both can be right.
For players who are given plays and asked to execute assignments, a preseason game played at full speed may very well feel like a regular-season game. For coaches who are coming up with the plays and assignments for said players to execute, the difference between the regular season and preseason is vast.
The third preseason game might then be the closest thing teams experience to a regular-season game this month, but it's still not close.
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