Given a second chance, Vereen carries himself well

FOXBOROUGH — His final line of 20 yards on 10 carries won’t exactly wow anyone.

Neither is the “long run” of 6 yards.

They shouldn’t.

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But make no mistake, running back Shane Vereen helped himself in the Patriots’ 27-17 loss to the Eagles Monday night at Gillette Stadium.

Once seemingly buried on the depth chart with his future as a Patriot very cloudy, Vereen has rebounded to push Stevan Ridley for the lead running back job.

As long as Tom Brady is quarterback for the Patriots, running back will strictly be a supporting role around here.

But somebody is going to get most of the carries. Somebody is going to be asked to grind games out late with a lead.

It looked like Ridley, the third-round pick in 2011, was well on his way to securing that job.

Now Vereen, taken one round earlier, is back in the conversation after Ridley provided an opening.

Vereen’s rookie season was basically a waste. Second-round picks are normally picked to be starters at some point. Vereen couldn’t get out of the starting blocks.

His contract didn’t get done in time for the start of training camp after the lockout, so he missed a few valuable days of practice.

And then during his second practice, Vereen pulled a hamstring and was largely unseen until he rushed for 39 yards on eight carries in mop-up duty against the Chiefs Nov. 21.

Vereen missed the final month of the season when the hamstring acted up again.

The Patriots had to wonder if Vereen was ever going to have an impact. The questions had to grow louder this training camp. Despite having the whole offseason to get ready for his next chance, Vereen’s play was largely uninspiring to start training camp.

Vereen was a standout sprinter in high school and then in college at Cal. But he rarely showed the type of explosion that you would expect to see. It even appeared undrafted running back Brandon Bolden was ahead of Vereen on the Patriots’ depth chart. Bolden had outplayed Vereen and was getting more reps.

And then things started to change in the preseason opener against the Saints.

He had 64 yards on 11 carries (5.8 average) and looked to be the best back on the team.

But circumstances are everything in this game, and Vereen did all of his damage in the second half, long after the Saints’ starters and even backups had departed the game.

Patriots coaches didn’t seem impressed. You would figure after output like that, Vereen would leap up the depth chart and get more chances with the first team.

Yet in the first two padded practices following the game, Ridley was in command and comfortably the lead Patriots back. Vereen was still trying to get carries with the backups.

And then Ridley fumbled Aug. 14.

The ghosts of Ridley’s two fumbles late last season — which landed him firmly on the bench through the Super Bowl — had reappeared and the coaches obviously weren’t happy.

Vereen got his number called the very next practice early and often, and the competition we all figured to see was on.

Break No. 2 to Vereen happened Thursday when Ridley injured his hamstring near the right knee. Ridley didn’t enter until the second half, and posted 25 yards on 10 carries, so the spotlight was largely left open for Vereen.

Vereen didn’t blow anybody away because the blocking in front of him was terrible. Vereen got a dose of what Ridley saw against the Saints when he had 40 yards on eight carries against New Orleans’ top defenders.

Vereen’s output wasn’t flashy, but he showed some important traits that should keep him in this battle for the top spot.

He rarely danced in the backfield and picked the right holes. He fell forward and picked up a few more yards to turn a 1- or 2-yard gain into 3 and 4 yards.

Vereen picked up 20 yards on a screen pass that was perfectly called by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels against an Eagles blitz.

Vereen was far from perfect, however

He was caught from behind on the screen by a defensive lineman on a play that should have gone for a touchdown.

On the third play from scrimmage, Vereen didn’t read the block of center Ryan Wendell correctly on a screen pass and only picked up 4 yards.

On the third drive, Vereen ran into the back of guard Dan Connolly when a hole was open.

So, no, Vereen didn’t knock it out of the park. But he hit a few clean singles. And when it comes to replacing starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who signed in free agency with the Bengals, that’s good enough.

This team will live and die with the pass. What the Patriots need is a running back to keep the defense honest and respect play-action passes. They need a running back who will pick up the hard yards when they need it, like Green-Ellis was able to do so well.

Basically, that’s what Vereen has done. And he’s now healthy, and hasn’t fumbled.

That means the competition is back on between Vereen and Ridley, just like it should have been all along.