The mission for every player catching a pass during Patriots training camp has been about gaining Tom Brady’s trust.
Wes Welker certainly had it. So did Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead targets of many significant Brady throws in seasons past.
Who’s next? Who might help fill the void created by all the departed players? Who could emerge as an X-factor in the offense?
Here’s one vote for Shane Vereen.
Of course Danny Amendola is an obvious choice but let’s look beyond Welker’s clone. If you want someone who has the best potential to be a breakout performer this season it’s Vereen.
While it may be odd to suggest someone with just eight catches last year could play a pivotal role this year let’s consider the big picture. First we saw glimpses of what he could do at different points last year. The third-year running back who was taken in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft certainly played well against the Jets Thanksgiving night catching two passes for 91 yards including an 83-yard touchdown catch. Then in the playoff win against Houston he caught five passes for 83 yards and rushed seven times for 41 yards. Most notable was the option route he ran deep for a 33-yard touchdown reception.
If there was ever a time for Vereen to deliver more of that kind of production it’s this season with Brady now having to work with a depleted receiving/tight end corps. And judging by the looks of it the 5-foot-10 205-pound back could very well be given the opportunity.
During camp we’ve seen Brady utilize Vereen as he would have Kevin Faulk or Woodhead in the past. If he doesn’t see anyone open he’ll hit Vereen with an outlet pass. Or he’ll simply swing it to Vereen and let him take off and do his thing.
Vereen who barely played as a rookie now appears to be one of Brady’s safety valves during passing situations along with Amendola. But there’s more. Vereen’s versatility allows him to not only line up in the backfield but also in different wide receiver spots.
To this point all of the running backs have gotten reps either split out wide or in the slot. Stevan Ridley has been primarily outside while Vereen has been either outside or in the slot. Or he’s started out wide then gone into motion and settled behind Brady. Hernandez did that on occasion.