The New England Patriots released veteran running back Donald Brown on Tuesday, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates, as an early-camp injury ultimately doomed Brown's chances of sticking on the roster at a position where the club is thin.
Brown, who signed a one-year, $965,000 contract with the Patriots on March 17, was competing for a backup spot behind LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis, the latter of whom will open the season on the reserve/physically unable to perform list as he will undergo a second surgery on his left knee.
Brown had pulled up in the fifth practice of training camp -- members of the athletic training staff appeared to be checking his hamstring -- and hadn't been a full participant in practice since. He didn't play in the team's first two preseason games.
By releasing him, the Patriots thin their ranks at a position that was already short on depth. Blount is the top power option, while third-year man James White projects to step in for Lewis as the top "passing back" until his return. The team also has Brandon Bolden (5th year), Tyler Gaffney (3rd year), Joey Iosefa (2nd year) and undrafted rookie D.J. Foster at running back. Yesterday we reported White is getting more running reps. Brown, if healthy, was an option to both run the ball and receive to keep defenses guessing a little.
I believe the Patriots are looking for James White to showcase some versatility. He was too one-dimensional last year. I believe they're looking for Donald Brown to prove he can be an effective receiver when he lines up wide, something he hasn't often been asked to do in his seven-year career.
"Hey, we don't know," Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears said last week. "We haven't seen it. That doesn't mean (Brown) can't do it. I'll put it to you this way: I didn't think James White could do it out there like that, but I'm telling you what, once you get out there, those guys, they've got some sh-- about them.
And I believe the Pats want D.J. Foster to show at least some capability between the tackles before they commit to him.
It's likely that one of these three stick. There is, however, the possibility that two of the three make the team and the Pats cut Brandon Bolden.
Foster can be stashed on the practice squad.
Interestingly, one named not mentioned is LeGarrette Blount. It sounds like the team wants White to step up into a bigger role, but it also sounds like a lot needs to be sorted out behind Lewis before the end of camp. Lewis is the fantasy back to own in this offense, but especially in PPR leagues.
Patriots RB coach Ivan Fears is looking for LeGarrette Blount to return to his "dominant" self.
"I want to see the LeGarrette that I know can be a dominant player when he's playing up his stuff," Fears said. "I want to see him get back to that. He's been hurt, he's been away from us. There's a lot of opportunity there for him. Let's see what he can do. There's got to be some consistency in his play, there's got to be production. Of course with his size we expect to see some physicality."
When Fears says there is "a lot of opportunity" for Blount, he's not lying.
Perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, the Patriots did not draft a bigger back, or any back, in April. They signed undrafted rookie D.J. Foster, a pure pass-catching back, and they signed veteran Donald Brown, who can play all three downs but has never been a 15-20 carry-per-game guy.
In theory, Blount should be in fine position to secure a roster spot and earn carries, the story said. He did not participate in the spring and is returning from a season-ending hip injury, so it'll be important that his conditioning is up to par. Either way, Dion Lewis is going to figure into this offense as well at the RB position, whether or not Blount is part of that 1-2 punch remains to be seen, but it sounds like the team wants him to.
Brown is a versatile back who finished 28th in PPR formats back in 2013 when he took over for Trent Richardson in Indianapolis. Since then, he has averaged 3.14 YPC over two seasons for the Chargers. The San Diego running game was a dumpster fire last year, and the Patriots obviously believe that Brown still has gas left in the tank. He could conceivably form a one-two punch with Dion Lewis.
Saturday, October 3, 2015, 8:50pm
A healthy scratch the first three games of the 2015 season, the San Diego Chargers finally executed what most fans considered a head scratcher to start the regular season.
They released running back Donald Brown, using the vacant roster spot to add guard Michael Ola from the practice squad to the active roster.
Brown was San Diego’s top free agent addition last year, signing a three-year, $10.4 million deal, including $4 million in guaranteed money. But he averaged just 2.6 yards per carry and missed three games due to a concussion.
The Chargers then drafted Melvin Gordon in the first round of this year’s draft, and some NFL observers believed the team would move on from Brown. Instead, the Chargers kept the University of Connecticut product on the final roster for Week 1, guaranteeing his $3 million salary for the 2015 season.
Chargers RB Branden Oliver is driven with an insatiable desire to make a bigger impact in 2015. True to form, he is not resting on his laurels, stressing a number of areas he wants to improve upon in order to fulfill his potential.
“My power, strength, speed and agility I am focusing on,” he said after a recent workout at Chargers Park. “I want to get better at everything. I don’t really focus on just one particular thing. I like to be well rounded and won’t limit myself to one area. It is always best to work at everything. I worked out the entire offseason Monday through Saturday. I took three weeks off after the season ended but worked out every week after that.”
Still, there is one aspect he wants to improve upon the most. “I want to break more tackles. I would also like to be a little more explosive.”
Oliver is also confident he can take his game to the next level in 2015 because he is far more comfortable than he was as a rookie.
“They will come easier this year because I’m more comfortable and know the offense. Now I can just go out there and ball. This year is very different. I feel so much better coming in. I’m more confident. I’m gelling with the guys and am more open to them because I know them better. It’s really just crazy to be going into my second year already! But I feel real good.”
When asked about the state of his running back corps, GM Tom Telesco said, "I'm not saying we wouldn't add somebody, but we don't need to." This is a situation to watch during the draft -- if the Chargers don't add a runner during the first two days, it's very possible that Oliver will go into the season as the starter with Donald Brown as his primary backup and Danny Woodhead as the passing down back. In that scenario, Oliver’s ADP would rise from its current level (12th round) and Woodhead would be a nice value in PPR formats.
Malcom Floyd, Eddie Royal and Seyi Ajirotutu will see a bump with Allen sidelined. Ajirotutu played 62 percent of the snaps in Week 15, which was the first time all year that he cracked the 35 percent mark. Floyd and Royal seem to be the best fantasy bets, however. With Mathews sidelined last week, Branden Oliver led the team in touches (16) and yards (70), but Donald Brown actually played more snaps due to his role in the passing game.
Friday, December 19, 2014, 6:02pm
Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (ankle, out) missed practice all week and is out for Week 16. With Mathews sidelined, Branden Oliver led the team in touches (16) and yards (70), but Donald Brown actually played more snaps due to his role in the passing game.
Thursday, December 18, 2014, 6:14pm
Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (ankle) did not practice Wednesday. Mathews “wasn’t considered close to playing” in Week 15, per beat writer Michael Gehlken, so we consider him doubtful for Week 16. With Mathews sidelined, Branden Oliver led the team in touches (16) and yards (70), but Donald Brown actually played more snaps due to his role in the passing game.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 12:48pm
Unfortunately, Mathews is not healthy right now, as he works back from a severely sprained ankle.
Donald Brown and Branden Oliver have not proven they can be effective, every-down backs in San Diego's offense, which means Chargers general manager Tom Telesco could be looking to select a running back early in the 2015 draft.
Mathews has missed eight games this season, and his rookie contract is up at the end of this season, the story points out. Oliver had a couple of nice games with both Brown and Mathews out of the lineup but came back to Earth a bit right before Mathews came back from his knee injury. Unfortunately, Mathews just can't seem to stay healthy even though he's proven to be productive when he is in the lineup. Any back the Chargers draft would right away become an interesting fantasy option on a Chargers team that does want to run the ball.
Friday, December 12, 2014, 6:26pm
Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (ankle, questionable) missed practice all week and is questionable for Week 15. This looks like a game-time decision, and the Chargers play late on Sunday. If Mathews is unable to play, look for Branden Oliver to lead the team in carries — he has 23 in the last four games compared to Donald Brown’s three — though Brown has been playing extensively on passing downs. The matchup against Denver isn’t appealing.
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