Give Belichick a 'bell cow' back, he'll use him

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Give Belichick a 'bell cow' back, he'll use him

FOXBORO -- The perception is that the New England Patriots are two-back team. That they have no real "lead" running back. That the position is divided up fairly equitably between a couple of players.

Turns out, the numbers tell a different story.

The Patriots most relied-upon runner has carried the ball at least twice as many times as his backup in all but four of Bill Belichick's 12 seasons with the team.

And in the years where the ratio was less than 2:1, the "lead back" was in decline or on the verge of replacement.

(Check this out)
2000: Faulk 154; Redmond 125
2001: Smith 287; Faulk 41
2002: Smith 252; Faulk 52
2003: Smith 182; Faulk 178
2004: Dillon 345, Faulk 54
2005: Dillon 209; Pass 54
2006: Dillon 199; Maroney 175
2007: Maroney 185; Morris 85
2008: Morris 156; Faulk 83
2009: Maroney 194; Morris 73
2010: Green-Ellis 229; Woodhead 97
2011: Green-Ellis 181; Ridley 87

So before we consider the "Stevan Ridley-Shane Vereen" competition then wave it away figuring they'll both get the ball plenty, it does probably deserve a closer look.

Because history tells us one of these second-year players is going to be the fastball and the other will be the change-up. And this realization makes the post-Law Firm competition that much more compelling.

In their opening arguments Thursday night, both made strong cases. Ridley started and had 40 yards on eight carries; Vereen carried 11 times for 64 yards against mostly scrubs.

Over the remainder of the preseason, the scales will need to be tipped the other way with Vereen running against the 1s to get a good look. Because, to date, all we've seen from the back out of Cal was a good in-stadium practice last August, a decent cameo against the moribund Chiefs during the regular season and Thursday's game. And some nice practice reps.

"Its kind of hard to gauge a running back in practice because were not doing full-speed tackling, Belichick said. The last time he really got an opportunity to run like that was probably in the Kansas City game (last November) when he had some of those same kind of looking plays. Thats the good thing about the preseason games, you get a chance to evaluate skill players. Can you tackle them? Its a better picture in the game and he did a good job.

More and more teams around the league are going to, in essence, a three-back rotation. There's the first and second-down back, his changeup back and the third down back.

That's where the Patriots appear headed.

But Belichick wouldn't rule out the return of the lone-star backfield.

"Im for whatever helps us win, he said. If its 500 quarterback sneaks, if thats the best thing for us, then Im all for it. If thats the best thing we can do to win, then sign me up for it.

The last true workhorse the Patriots had was Corey Dillon. He carried the ball 345 times in the Super Bowl season of 2004.

"Corey Dillon was good enough to do it," Belichick reminded when asked about Dillon's workload. "If the Corey Dillon of 2004 was on this roster , Im sure hed get it 300 times too. I havent seen Corey out there lately.

Come to think of it, neither have I. Seen some Ridley and some Vereen, though. And -- if history is a guide -- I'll be seeing one of them much more than the other.

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski is a model citizen in the NFL. In fact, the NFL Players Association is advising rookies to be more like Gronk, according to The Boston Globe

The New England Patriots tight end has developed a name for himself on and off the football field. With that attention comes branding. And at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere from May 18 to 20, the NFLPA encouraged rookies to develop their own brand -- much like Gronkowski.

“Some people think he’s just this extension of a frat boy, and that it’s sort of accidental,” Ahmad Nassar said, via The Globe. Nassar is the president of NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFLPA. “And that’s wrong. It’s not accidental, it’s very purposeful. So the message there is, really good branding is where you don’t even feel it. You think, ‘Oh, that’s just Gronk being Gronk.’ Actually, that’s his brand, but it’s so good and so ingrained and so authentic, you don’t even know it’s a brand or think it.”

Gronkowski's "Summer of Gronk" has indirectly become one of his streams of income. The tight end makes appearances for magazines and sponsors. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he didn't touch his NFL salary during the early years of his career.

Gronk was one of three players who were the topics of discussion during the symposium. Dak Prescott and Odell Beckham were also used as examples of players who have been able to generate additional income from endorsements. Beckham, in particular, has been in the spotlight off the football field. He's appeared on the cover of Madden, and just signed a deal with NIke which is reportedly worth $25 million over five years with upwards of $48 million over eight years. His deal, which is a record for an NFL player, will pay him more than his contract with the Giants.

“A lot of people talk to the players about, ‘You should be careful with your money and you should treat your family this way and you should treat your girlfriend or your wife.’ Which is fine. I think that’s valuable,” Nassar said, via The Globe. “But we don’t often give them a chance to answer the question: How do you see yourself as a brand? Because Gronk, Odell, none of those guys accidentally ended up where they are from a branding and marketing standpoint.”

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL


Tom Brady delivered a video message last week at the funeral of Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken, a Maine native and former UConn track athlete killed in Somalia on May 5.

Bill Speros of The Boston Herald, in a column this Memorial Day weekend, wrote about Milliken and Brady's message.   

Milliken ran track at Cheverus High School in Falmouth, Maine, and at UConn, where he graduated in 2001. Milliken lived in Virginia Beach, Va., with his wife, Erin, and two children.  He other Navy SEALs participated in a training exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011 where he met and posed for pictures with Brady.

Speros wrote that at Milliken’s funeral in Virginia Beach, Va., Brady's video offered condolences and thanked Milliken’s family for its sacrifice and spoke of how Milliken was considered a “glue guy” by UConn track coach Greg Roy.

Milliken had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning four Bronze Star Medals and was based in Virginia since 2004.  He was killed in a nighttime firefight with Al-Shabaab militants near Barij, about 40 miles from the Somali capital of Mogadishu. He was 38.

The Pentagon said Milliken was the first American serviceman killed in combat in Somalia since the "Black Hawk Down" battle that killed 18 Americans in 1993. 

In a statement to the Herald, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said: “It was an honor to host Kyle and his team for an exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011. It gave new meaning to the stadium being known as home of the Patriots. We were deeply saddened to hear of Kyle’s death earlier this month.

“As Memorial Day weekend approaches, we are reminded of the sacrifices made by patriots like Kyle and so many others who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend and protect our rights as Americans. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt appreciation are extended to the Milliken family and the many families who will be remembering lives lost this Memorial Day weekend.”