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Words With Frenz mailbag: Examining Shane Vereen's potential impact in Week 1

Posted by Erik Frenz  September 6, 2013 08:28 AM

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The 2013 NFL regular season finally kicked off on Thursday night with a real football game that actually counts in the standings.

Unfortunately, it's not one that has much gravity in the AFC East — save for the impactful performance of former Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker who finished with nine catches (one of which a dubious drop that was not challenged by the Ravens coaching staff) for 67 yards and a touchdown.

Soon, the speculative questions will come to an end, and we can finally start analyzing real AFC East games.

For now, we are left to wonder things like what will Shane Vereen's role be on Sunday against the Bills, will the Bills trade Jairus Byrd this season, will Rex Ryan finish the season as Jets head coach, and why aren't the Dolphins getting any respect from the media?

Here are my answers.

Shane Vereen had the third-most snaps of any Patriots running back last year (162) behind Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead. With Woodhead out of the picture, Vereen has earned most of the snaps on third down. His prospects for a bigger role only increased further with the release of Leon Washington.

How big will his role be this week? It will all depend on the matchups.

A lot of the focus has been on the Bills defensive front, and the exotic schemes that could come with the hiring of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. It could be the coverage of the linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks that plays a bigger role in the outcome of Sunday's game.

Rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso may be able to cover Vereen out of the backfield — that's if Alonso isn't covering a tight end — but if Vereen lines up split out wide, that's a matchup Tom Brady will probably take. The same could be said of any of the Bills linebackers and safeties.

Vereen caught five passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns in a playoff game against the Texans, and he built off that this preseason with seven catches for 62 yards and a touchdown. Almost all of that came when Brady found Vereen matches up on a linebacker or safety.

One player the Patriots will have to watch out for is strong safety Aaron Williams, who converted from cornerback to safety this offseason. He has looked solid in his new role thus far, and his experience as a cornerback could be something the Bills tap into if they are having a hard time matching up with Vereen.

I wouldn't bet on it.

Jairus Byrd is the Bills best defensive back, and arguably their best defensive player. It's going to take quite a heavy price tag to get him off the Bills hands.

He's also in a contract year, and any team that's going to trade for him will have to pay him after the fact.

It wouldn't be unprecedented; in fact, it happened in the AFC East earlier this year The New York Jets netting the 13th overall pick in 2013 and a conditional pick in 2014 from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for cornerback Darrelle Revis.

However, Byrd is currently battling plantar fasciitis, a foot injury that usually only gets better with rest. Would a team be willing to trade for Byrd, then take on the potential risk of him not being 100 percent?

My guess is no.

Well, I wouldn't say they're being heavily favored. The Browns are only favored by one point.

That's probably a point they get for having home field advantage.

The Dolphins look like the better team, but it's not one you can chalk up as a win just yet.

The Browns have a solid offensive line that allowed quarterback Brandon Weeden to be pressured on just 27.7 percent of his drop-backs in 2012. While they may not have many weapons in the passing game, it may not matter if Weeden has all day to throw.

Offensively, Miami has more weapons than Cleveland, but the Browns have a great defensive coordinator in Ray Horton, who has a lot of young, athletic players at his disposal to help execute his aggressive blitz scheme. The Dolphins offensive line will be tested early and often.

Also, while the Browns haven't exactly earned a lot of media praise recently, neither have the Dolphins. People have their doubts about whether all the pieces the Dolphins acquired this offseason will come together quickly, and whether the spending will pay immediate dividends.

I would be.

It's a two-sided situation. On the one hand, the Jets have to know they're in the middle of a rebuild with a new offensive and defensive coordinator, a new starting quarterback and a new general manager.

Rex Ryan is on the hot seat, but he doesn't have to take the Jets to the playoffs to keep the job. In fact, with Geno Smith as the starting quarterback to lead off the season, there may be a bigger margin for error with Ryan in 2013 than there would be if Mark Sanchez was still the starter.

If the Jets finish 5-11 or worse, Rex might be looking for new work. A 6-10 record with a rookie quarterback and several holes on the roster could be good enough to save his job for one more year.

Thanks for the questions, everyone. Can't wait to get the AFC East season under way.




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About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »

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