By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
FOXBORO Shane Vereen carried the ball 11 times for 34 yards in Thursday's 18-17 preseason loss to the New York Giants.
Not that big a deal, right?
When you consider the hamstring injury that sidelined the rookie running back for most of training camp, getting an opportunity to be on the field was in itself a victory.
Forget about playing.
Vereen acknowledges not being able to participate in practice has made his first foray into the NFL a frustrating one at times.
"The main thing is I want to be there for my team and help them out any way possible," Vereen said following the game. "I was able to get out there today a little bit."
Like any player, whether you're a pup like Vereen or an All-Pro, opportunities to get on the field in preseason games are the best gauge to see just how far a player has come -- or how far they have to go -- before the regular season begins.
"We're trying to evaluate everybody, including the veterans," said Pats coach Bill Belichick. "What veterans did last year, that's great, but that's last year. It's really where they are now and what they can contribute to this team, so I think they have to prove themselves just like the rookies do."
But the difference is that with veterans, they have a track record of having proven themselves NFL-ready.
Rookies? Not so much. Just about everything rookies do is a first-time experience.
When you compound the challenges of everything being new with an injury, it's understandable why Vereen's approach to Thursday's game was a bit different. As a running back, the objective of most games is to avoid as many hits as possible.
But when you've been shelved for as long as Vereen was, any contact is good contact.
"That was the big thing about his first preseason game, being able to bang a little bit," he said. "It was a sigh of relief when I finally did."
But for Vereen to get an opportunity to play meaningful reps this year, a lot of things will have to fall into place in a hurry.
Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis have established themselves as New England's top two running backs. And with only Thursday's game under his belt, Vereen will have a difficult time pushing ahead of players such as fellow rookie Stevan Ridley or veteran Sammy Morris.
Although things have been challenging, Vereen acknowledged earlier that having played in a pro system like the one he was in at Cal under Jeff Tedford, helped a lot.
"The system that we used back in college is pretty spread, and we did a lot of different things," said Vereen, who is the latest in a long line of Cal running backs (Jahvid Best, Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett) to land in the NFL. "It helped me understand defenses."
Now if he can just stay healthy enough to put that knowledge to use, and potentially move up the depth chart.
Knowing he has missed a considerable amount of time due to his injury, Vereen is eager to prove himself on the field not only to himself, but also his teammates.
However, he says he won't put too much pressure on himself to perform.
"I don't think I need to step outside and try too hard, step outside of what I do," he said. "I have confidence in myself and whatever role coaches want me to play. I'm more than willing to step into that role."