Through the first drive of the third quarter, Dion Lewis played 23 offensive snaps as he made his case to be considered the top option to replace Shane Vereen as the team's top "passing back." His combination of blitz pickup, pass-catching ability, knack for picking up yardage after the catch, and determination in the red zone (11-yard touchdown run) was impressive.
Up to that point in the game, Lewis' primary competition for the job, James White, had played three snaps. All three of those snaps came out of the "pony" grouping in which he was on the field at the same time as Lewis.
"I thought Dion did a good job with his opportunities," coach Bill Belichick said in his day-after-game conference call. "He's had a solid spring and camp for us. He missed a few days there [because of injury], but I thought he ran well [Saturday] night."
As it turned out, White did too, the story said. Essentially taking over for Lewis from the second drive of the third quarter until the end of the game (the two were on the field together six snaps after that point), it was almost as if White felt the urgency to match Lewis.
That was what stood out most to me when reviewing the offensive snap counts from the game; how the competition between the two has raised the bar at a critical position in the Patriots' offense. White was drafted by the team for this role so he may have the edge because of that. Whoever wins the job should get a Shane Vereen-like role in the offense which would have PPR league value.
It wasn’t only that RB Andre Williams did not possess the best hands, it was that he seemed to lose track of the football and displayed poor depth perception when asked to come out of the backfield to catch a pass.
The Giants are working on this with Williams, their muscular second-year running back and leading rusher from 2014. Williams figures to do the heavy lifting this season, with Rashad Jennings doing a little bit of everything and newly signed Shane Vereen used mostly as a pass-catcher and safety-valve option for Eli Manning after excelling in that role for Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Williams’ primary role will not be as a pass-catcher, but if he is not somewhat of a threat, opposing defense do not have to play him honestly. So Williams has made several changes to make himself more proficient.
In mid-March, he underwent Photorefractive Keratectomy laser eye surgery and now no longer needs contact lenses.
“I don’t have to worry about the strain from the lenses, and I also don’t have to worry about getting knocked in the eye and having my contact get loose or fall out,’’ Williams said. “If your contacts are cloudy or something, it’s a problem.
“It’s cool to wake up in the morning and see right away and not go to bed with the ‘I forgot to take my contacts out and my eyes hurt.’ It’s nice. Best money I ever spent so far.’’
Williams also has been working on his hand-eye coordination by catching tennis balls. Before games, Williams takes part in a blind-ball drill. With his back to running backs coach Craig Johnson, Williams has to turn and quickly locate the ball in the air as Johnson flips it to him. Like the story said, Jennings and Vereen are likely to see a bulk of the passes at the RB position, but Williams will only help himself if he can at least make defense aware. His main role looks like a change of pace back who could see short yardage and goal line situations.
Patriots RB James White — who took a helmet to the thigh in the second quarter but returned in the second half — looked shifty and sure-handed out of the backfield. Whether he was catching dump-off passes in the flat or screens, White always seemed to make the first guy miss in picking up extra yards after the catch.
In a season where the Patriots need to find an adequate replacement for Shane Vereen as a third-down back who can both catch out of the backfield and pick up the blitz, White appeared, at least for one night, a suitable replacement.
“It was a great feeling,” White said. “Good to be out there with my teammates (and) get a chance to go out there and compete against another team. I just want to go out there and make plays and make no mental errors.”
Rashad Jennings took the initial running back reps with the first-team offense. That's not a surprise considering he was listed atop the depth chart and is likely to the team's top ball carrier as long as he's healthy.
But it doesn't mean he'll receive the most playing time. The more versatile Shane Vereen logged the most snaps during Tuesday's practice. It's been that way most of the summer.
Jennings did look good. On one play during 11-on-11 drills, he burst through the hole from around the 20-yard line (showing good explosion) and cut outside at the second level for what might have been a touchdown.
The article said that Vereen out-snapped Jennings 13-to-9, with Andre Williams checking in with three first team snaps. We rank Vereen significantly ahead of Jennings in PPR formats, but Jennings is slightly ahead of Vereen in our standard rankings. It appears that Vereen's role will go beyond what's typical for a third-down back.
Strictly judging by appearances, veteran Brandon Bolden is currently the leader in the clubhouse for Shane Vereen’s third down back role. He’s moved ahead of second-year back James White and everyone else.
Bolden has been the main man for Tom Brady as the pass catching/blocking back during the past three practices.
He was the primary guy during Friday's session. But one practice doesn’t mean much. It could be a rotation type deal. But then, he was the lead again Saturday. So we've started a trend. Three days? Can't be a coincidence. We’re onto something.
“Any work is great out here,” Bolden said today, when asked about his added reps.
Bolden has been a guy who can fill in at any RB role, but never seemed to be a permanent fixture either. It's a bit surprising because many thought the team drafted White last year to be that guy this year. The story said White has fallen even since the pads came out, however. Travaris Cadet, who filled in as a third down back as a Saint last year, got hurt Saturday and the story said he also seemed like he was going to pass White. While there's a way to go yet, the story also mentioned Brady's trust in Bolden, which could be a factor in the winner of this job. It's certainly something to continue to monitor.
Giants beat writer Dan Graziano on Rashad Jennings' rumored demotion: I did not see Rashad Jennings on the field with Eli Manning or the first-team offensive line either of the past two days. He did take a lot of reps with the second team, while Andre Williams and Shane Vereen got a bunch of the first-team work.
Now, I know the coaches really like Williams and the work he's done to improve this offseason. And there's a specific role for Vereen, especially on passing downs. I also know there is concern among the coaches about Jennings' health, as he's 30, missed five games last season and has never played 16 in a season. So it's possible they're just limiting his reps. However, if health were the concern with Jennings, I don't think we'd be seeing him take as many special teams reps as he's taking right now. That as much as anything might indicate a bit of a slide down the depth chart.
Friday Update: Jennings was practicing with the first team on Friday, while Williams was running with the second team.
Rashad Jennings is no longer the man in the Giants' backfield. Jennings, who looked like a bell cow running back early last season, has been seeing a great many second-team reps and special teams reps in camp. Shane Vereen, this year's free agent acquisition, has been drawing more first-team reps, as has second-year man Andre Williams. At the least, this looks like a backfield-by-committee.
Saturday, August 1, 2015, 6:48pm
“I think we have some talented guys on offense,” Manning said. “Talented running backs, guys that are very multiple at running back, catch the ball out of the backfield, move them around.”
Jennings and Vereen aren’t sure yet how the roles will shake out in Ben McAdoo’s offense. On Saturday, Williams saw some reps with the first team.
“I guess we’ll see,” Vereen said when asked what his role might be with his new team. “It’s still a waiting game. … I guess the role is kind of going to play itself out. The more we get on the field, the more practice we get, the more repetitions, I think it’ll kind of speak for itself, and the role will be cut out in some shape or form.”
Jennings wants all the running backs to prepare as if they will start and get the majority of the workload.
Most seem to think Jennings will get a bulk of the early down work with Vereen a pass-catching, third down back. Williams could see goal line and short yardage situations but did serve as the team's RB1 when Jennings was hurt last year.
The Boston Herald broke down the Patriots RBs:
LeGarrette Blount will miss the opener on the suspended list, but should be viewed as a lock because the Patriots made no obvious attempt to replace him in the draft or free agency. Brandon Bolden signed a contract extension last season and is one of their most trusted special teamers. The Patriots believe James Develin is the best fullback in the league, so he is safe as long as the Pats continue to value the position.
We still don’t know for sure much about Travis Cadet, Tyler Gaffney, Jonas Gray and James White really. Cadet has an intriguing set of skills, but could he provide more than Bolden or White? And White just had his second strong spring of OTAs, but can he do it wearing pads? Is Gray the bulldozer we saw against the Colts or the guy Bill Belichick preferred to keep in the doghouse? And the thinking here is that Gaffney’s best work must come in pads, which is why he had a somewhat quiet spring.
The story went on to say that White, a 2014 fourth-round pick, dazzled at the start of training camp last season before falling off the map with 16 healthy scratches in 19 games. He was strong again during the nine-week OTAs program and appeared to be the Pats’ best back in passing situations. White could monopolize that role if he keeps it up and earns more trust, the story went on to say. But if he disappears again midway through camp, he might even get cut. We had news articles last year that stated White could be a potential Shane Vereen replacement, but the team signed Cadet in the offseason and right now is a bit more proven after filling in for Pierre Thomas at times last year in New Orleans. With Blount seemingly the early down back, the winner of the third down, passing situation job could potentially have PPR value in fantasy leagues.
Perhaps most notable about the Patriots' running back position is that James White, Travaris Cadet and Dion Lewis look to be closely bunched for the pass-catching role vacated by Shane Vereen at this juncture.
If any single back wins the pass-catching role outright, he'll suddenly be a factor in PPR formats. Shane Vereen averaged 4.3 catches per game over the past two years (including the postseason). That projects to 68.8 receptions over a full 16-game season.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Regardless of Jennings’ injury history, the Giants are going to split carries because they have three very talented running backs that all deserve to touch the ball. I expect Jennings to be the bell cow with help from Williams, Vereen to be the third down back, and for Williams to get a lot of goal line and short yardage carries.
DAN SALOMONE: Regardless of any injuries, I think the running backs are all going to see a fair share of carries this season because they all bring something a little different to the table. Jennings is an all-around back, Andre Williams is a bruiser, and newly-signed Shane Vereen is a third-down threat out of the backfield.
LANCE MEDOW: The Giants will likely split carries at running back a little more this season but I think it has more to do with the depth in the backfield than Rashad Jennings’ injury issues in 2014. With Andre Williams coming off a productive rookie campaign and Shane Vereen adding some versatility and veteran experience, those two will take away some carries from Jennings just like Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw spread the wealth in 2008.
All three writers seem to feel the same way: Jennings should get a bulk of the early down work with Williams a change of pace and short yardage guy, and, Vereen seeing a lot of time on third down. We have Jennings ranked 26th which puts him in the flex/RB3 zone. Vereen is 38th overall but will likely be rated higher in PPR rankings. Both Jennings and Vereen present middle-of-the-draft value, but will come with risks week-to-week depending on matchups.
Sunday, June 28, 2015, 4:39pm
Giants QB Eli Manning, 34, signed a six-year, $97 million deal with the Giants in 2009. It's been re-worked frequently to create salary-cap room but Manning's still on the same deal. It expires after the 2015 season.
Despite his age and despite his propensity for throwing picks (he's led the league three times, including 2013), Manning has two Super Bowl MVP awards and certainly qualifies as a top-end quarterback.
From a fantasy perspective, Manning had one of the best statistical seasons of his career in 2014, throwing for 4,410 yards with 30 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions. That he did it in a new offensive scheme is only more impressive. It was a rough start for the Giants but the emergence of Odell Beckham Jr at WR certainly helped turn around the offense. WR Victor Cruz should be back healthy and the team signed Shane Vereen as a pass-catching running back. The point of the story is more times than not, QBs tend to get deals done with their current team, so there's a good chance Manning stays in New York - and he has the potential for a nice 2015. He's ranked ninth on our QB list heading into camps. With an ADP of the 12th round, he's a potential sneaky pick because guys behind him in our rankings - Tony Romo, Ryan Tannehill, Philip Rivers and Matthew Stafford - all project to come off the board before Manning.
Rashad Jennings ran primarily with the first-team offense. Free-agent acquisition Shane Vereen was mixed in constantly, especially on passing downs. Where does that leave Williams, the second-year back out of Boston College, after a strong rookie season? Williams might have trouble finding a role if the other two stay healthy. Jennings may even be a better, more effective short-yardage and/or goal-line back.
Williams averaged 3.3 YPC as a rookie (Jennings averaged 3.8 YPC), so the team probably isn't making it a priority to get the second-year back on the field. It appears that Williams will serve as Jennings' backup, so as long as Jennings stays healthy, he should see the bulk of the carries on 1st and 2nd down.
In the battle of third-down backs, James White looks like a carbon copy of Shane Vereen. He’s lined up in all the same places, and turned in some spectacular catches, particularly on wheel routes coming out of the backfield. He’s made a few drops, but all in all, looks great. It’s important to remember he also looked great last year at this time before falling off the map.
Free agent pickup Dion Lewis has earned praise on the field from Brady for his route-running. He’s also been a primary kick returner in drills. He has some giddy-up in his step.
Travaris Cadet, another free agent who was the third down back in New Orleans, has had some good moments.
“If they don’t look good in shorts and t-shirts, we got a problem,” running backs coach Ivan Fears reminded us last week. “Let’s wait ’til the bullets start flying.”
There was a similar report last week that Cadet had the lead in the competition, so this job is still very much up in the air. If one player takes over Vereen's role, then he'll be immediately relevant in PPR formats.
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