Dave D'Onofrio's Patriots Notebook: Expect Pats to be Blount with Cincy
Jeff Demps, the world-class sprinter whose productivity as a running back at the University of Florida earned him a contract with the Patriots prior to the 2012 season, finally made his NFL debut last Sunday.
The ex-Olympian spent the summer competing in track-and-field events, and didn't join his new team, the Buccaneers, until the middle of September, though as raw as he is, they're excited about the potential that comes with his speed and the weapon it could be out of the backfield or in the return game. He ran for 14 yards on his first carry, and his opportunities stand to increase in the future.
But it's unlikely that whatever he does will make the Patriots regret trading him to Tampa Bay, given what they got in return, given how much that move has already paid off, and given how much more it could pay off moving forward - starting today.
In exchange for Demps, the Pats received LaGarette Blount in a deal consummated during the final hours of April's draft. Because of that timing, and because the Pats already had a pair of blossoming third-year backs in Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, the acquisition wasn't paid all that much attention. There were questions of whether or not Blount would even make New England's roster, which also included second-year man Brandon Bolden, who showed bursts of promise as a rookie.
However, Bolden began the season with a knee injury. Vereen broke his wrist in the opener and is out at least six more weeks. Those two injuries helped create early opportunities for the Oregon product, which he took advantage of, and now with Ridley having been ruled out of today's game at Cincinnati with a knee injury of his own, the stage is set for Blount to perhaps take on a more featured role.
And based on what they've seen so far, the Pats are comfortable with that - despite the fact that the opportunity arises in part because they'll be missing their 1,200-yard plow horse.
"He's a good player and he's played well," said New England Coach Bill Belichick, noting that the club has had confidence in Blount's ability to help the team since the initial days of training camp. "He has good run skills, he has good vision.
"He's a big, strong guy, he's got good speed, catches the ball well. He's been a dependable player for us. We asked him to do kickoff returns, he's done that. He's really done everything we asked him to do."
That ability to do different things was particularly accentuated during the fourth quarter of last week's win in Atlanta. The Patriots handed him the ball on the second play of the period, and once he got through the line he bounced toward the left sideline and showed how fast he can get his 6-foot-1, 245-pound frame to move.
Getting the angle on the defensive back he finished the run by outracing him to the goal line, reaching paydirt at the end of a 47-yard dash, and expanding the Pats lead to 20-10. It was his first touchdown with the team, but the second straight week in which he's broken off a carry for at least 23 yards - yet it wasn't even the run Belichick considered his best of the night.
That distinction went to the third-and-one haul that was ultimately ruled a failure by the referees' questionable spotting of the ball short of the first-down marker, but nevertheless demonstrated another of Blount's skills. After showing his speed to score, he showed his significant strength by even gaining anywhere near the necessary yardage. He was hit in the backfield, but fought his way forward, and arguably - if inconclusively - clinched the game.
"I thought the run that he had on the third-and-one in Atlanta was about as good a run as we've had all year," Belichick said. "I don't know about the spot on that one. He did everything he could to get that first down. It was a very close play. Nobody will every talk about that one, but I think that's as good a run as we've had."
Over the past two weeks, Blount has gained 129 yards on 23 carries, and so his average is up to 4.6 yards per touch for the season. He doesn't have a catch yet, and had only one in 13 games last season, so Bolden - perhaps shared with Leon Washington - is likely to play a lot today, too. But against a tough, physical defensive front, if the Patriots are to run the ball as effectively as they did last week against the Falcons, it'll likely be Blount who handles most of that load without Ridley.
He's better suited for it than Bolden or Washington are. Or Demps would've been.
- - - - - - - -
OVERRATED: Cincinnati's urgency. After losing to the Browns, and falling to 2-2, this would theoretically be a big game for a team that began the season with Super Bowl aspirations.
- - - - - - - -
KEY MATCHUP: Green vs. Aqib Talib. It'll be fun to watch, and given that the Bengals have struggled to run the ball - old friend BenJarvus Green-Ellis is averaging just 2.7 yards per run - if Talib can keep up his recent level of play, the Patriots could be in control.
Dave D'Onofrio covers the Patriots for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is email@example.com.