Camp Update: Age Not A Concern For RBs

FOXBORO -- The magic number is 30. That's the age most teams start jettisoning their running backs due to injury concerns, lack of speed, etc. Not New England, 30 is the magic number at Gillette.

Everyone knows the situation regarding Tom Brady. Coming off major knee surgery, he essentially holds the key to the Patriots' success in 2009. A healthy Brady increases the team's chances of making it back to the Super Bowl tenfold, whereas any minor -- or major -- setbacks could derail New England on its path to greatness.

Of course, it's not all on Brady's shoulders in 2009. The Patriots need more from their running game to make their quarterback's life a little easier this season. Yes, they finished among the top 10 last year in total rushing, but that was a byproduct of an increased number of carries and a committee approach in which no single runner reached the 800-yard mark.

One of the keys to that '08 attack, LaMont Jordan (363 yards) is gone, putting more pressure on an aging corps that features a 33-year-old Kevin Faulk, 32-year-old Sammy Morris and a newcomer in veteran Fred Taylor, who turned 33 in January.

Conventional wisdom says most running backs begin to drop off after turning 30, but Faulk, who has played his entire career in New England said "it's all on you" in terms of remaining durable at a certain age.

"It's all on how you prove your body, train your body, and how let your body go through the course of your career," he said.
Of course, the easy solution to all this would be to get more from the young buck on the staff, former first-round pick Laurence Maroney, who is coming off a disappointing, injury-plagued '08 in which his durability and heart came into question.

Midway through the season, Maroney spoke of "issues" that limited his production, but never elaborated on what exactly ate away at his performance. The bottom line is he is not guaranteed a roster spot in 2009. Should his lackluster play from '08 carry over into camp this summer, the Patriots might be faced with a difficult decision regarding the player they once considered the future of their backfield.

"We feel like we have good competition at the running back position," head coach Bill Belichick said.

"Those guys have all really proven themselves. Laurence has done a lot of great things for us. Sammy Morris has done a great job for us. We like the players we have there in the backfield. We'll let them compete and let them play. I would think that we'd be able to get production from all of them."
That's the plan, at least, though it's worth noting that last year's team entered the season with so much depth at that position and ultimately wound up struggling to fill gaps due to a countless number of injuries -- among them Jordan, Maroney and Morris.

What the Patriots need is better health and more leadership from Maroney, who could do everyone a favor by reverting to his '07 form when he finished the season with a strong month of December. Those final four games never carried over into last season, and the Patriots are hoping Maroney's lackluster '08 dies a similar death.

"We've got a lot of guys that have played a lot of football in the National Football League in the backfield right now. The only one (who hasn't) probably is BenJarvus (Green-Ellis), but he's had a lot of time last year. He's experienced right now. We just try to take it to the field, take it to practice, try to add our knowledge to our teammates as well as to ourselves."

Nice To See Him In Camp

New England Patriots Ron Brace (L) Vince Wilfork (75) July 30, 2009. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

While the Patriots would never admit as much, they're more than likely thrilled thus far that Vince Wilfork's supposed contract squabble hasn't been a distraction.

After skipping the voluntary team workouts because he was unhappy with the lack of progress in contract talks, Wilfork has become a model citizen again with training camp kicking into high gear.

Though part of his reasoning might've had something to do with the fact skipping mandatory practices results in a fine, Wilfork, to his credit, has been on the field each and every day since mini-camp in June, so it appears, for now, the flames have been extinguished.
What happens off the field regarding Wilfork's impending contract talks most likely won't affect what goes on between the lines.

"(The contract) will take care of itself when it's time to, but right now, I'm trying to put that to the side and trying to do what I'm here to do - that's play football," Wilfork said. "I'm really not paying attention to it, nothing else but playing football right now."

This team-first attitude, genuine or not, says a lot about Wilfork and his ability to see the bigger picture. At times, it seems modern-day athletes ask for the lucrative contract extensions without proving they're worth the money. They bank on past performances to do the talking, rather than strapping on the helmet and showing the powers-that-be what kind of player the organization could be missing out on if contract talks go awry.

For now, it appears Wilfork has realized the best way to get the long-term extension he so desperately wants is to show the front office and coaching staff he is willing to put the team first -- in other words, no holdout. Instead, the massive nose tackle will show up, practice, play and let his performance -- not his past resume -- do the talking.
"It's tough, but being a professional you have to," he said. "The last thing I want is being on the field and being (mad) at everybody, and now my teammates can't trust me to do what I have to do. I would not put my teammates in that predicament. They know what they can get out of me. They know what they will get out of me. Business is business and I'm here doing what I need to do."

That Wilfork is here to play, not pout, is good news for the Patriots' defense. They continue to rely on the "Big 3" up front with a dicey linebacker situation and a new-look defensive backfield that might need time to jell. Wilfork is the glue that holds this 3-4 defense together.

"That's what I pay my agent to do, to handle this stuff because I don't want to be bothered with this. I have a job to do and the last thing I want to do is to have all this stuff going on," Wilfork said. "My wife is pregnant and she's due Aug. 5. I have a lot of headaches in my household and I can't add one more to it. I'll let my agent handle that situation and go forth from there. Me personally, I want to play football. I'm going to play football and whatever happens, happens."


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