FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots are an unpredictable bunch on offense, with the ability to wear down a defense both through the air and on the ground.
The running game, which has improved dramatically in 2012, has featured four separate players who each seem to bring something different to the table. While Stevan Ridley has become the primary workhorse, it's a guessing game to project who will earn the first carry each week, as the Patriots have shuffled the starter on a weekly basis.
Running backs coach Ivan Fears told reporters last week that the process of deciding who will be in the game on the first play and series lasts right up until the offense takes the field.
"When we game-plan, we practice a certain way, and we go right up until the beginning of the game," he said. "Before the coin toss, we're still talking about what we're going to do and how we want to play this game. And Josh [McDaniels] finally makes a decision of what calls he wants to go with, and that usually sort of dictates who is going into the game."
Fears said that each of his running backs has to be prepared for his own role -- starter or not -- but also to fill the role of a running back counterpart.
"Everybody has a role, everybody has a role," Fears noted. "Everybody else has got to back up everybody else, because you can get an injury, and somebody's got to be able to take over that role. Everybody's got to be able to do everything, but just like everybody has strong suits, you try to take advantage of their strong suits. You try to do what that guy does best, and that's what you do."
Unlike seasons past, the Patriots don't feature a running back with double-digit seasons worth of experience, rendering it a fairly young group in comparison. But Fears said he still has his veteran presence in the running back meeting room, and it's Danny Woodhead.
"Woody's my veteran. He's my veteran," he said. "He keeps everything going in that room, and keeps the guys in tune, shows them how it goes, and how to be a professional athlete. That's my big dog right there, he's the boss in the room there. I think it helps to have some senior leadership, a veteran guy.
"Young guys coming in, this is a different game. This is not the college game, this is a different game. It helps to have somebody around, and you've got to remember, Stevan and Shane [Vereen] were both here with Kevin [Faulk] and those guys last year, so they got a chance to learn from those guys on the little things about being a professional athlete."
The coach said learning about the nuances of the game off-the-field from the veterans is pivotal for young backs.
"That's what it all about. How you've got to take care of your body, all the things that are important off the field," he continued. "None of those guys has a problem on the field. They practice, they play hard. It's the little things they do off the field that makes them successful, that gives them a chance for longevity in the league. Those are the things that they learn from the veteran guys."