RB Vereen in line for Woodhead's reps

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It seems like ages ago, but January 13 has plenty of significance for New England Patriots running back Shane Vareen. In the divisional playoffs, Vereen caught two touchdown passes and rushed for another score in a 45-28 win over the Houston Texans.

But was it a breakout game or a one-hit wonder for the 2011 second-round pick who has yet to fully emerge early in his NFL career?

Set to enter a critical training camp and preseason where he could potentially lock down a larger role in the Patriots backfield, Vereen told reporters Tuesday that his performance on January 13 gives him confidence going forward.

"What I learned from that [game] is that I can do it, confidence wise," Vereen said. "It helps, but it's a new season. Anything can happen. You're starting from ground zero."

Entering his third NFL season, Vereen has a golden opportunity in front of him, following the surprising departure of Danny Woodhead to the San Diego Chargers on a two-year, $3.5 million deal.

Whether the Patriots didn't bring back Woodhead based on a renewed confidence in Vereen is not clear. But after battling injuries as a rookie and again early in his sophomore campaign, the Cal product says he's healthy this offseason and focused on improving.

"There's a little more focus on my part. There has to be," Vereen said Tuesday. "[I need to] just be more consistent. More reliable. That comes with practice and that comes with time, so hopefully we'll get there."

Reflecting back on his first two seasons in New England, Vereen hinted at some struggles at picking up the system, which may have stemmed from injuries that kept him off the field.

"You have to stay focused the whole time. Because I'm a dual threat, it means I have to know multiple positions. I have to know everything, really," he said. "Here, it wasn't always easy coming in. You've got to learn how to learn the system, make sense of it to yourself. I'm more of a visual learner, so I learn a lot by seeing it on the field. [But] I've been to plenty of practices, seen and taken a lot of mental reps as well as physical reps. I don't think it's much of an issue any more."

The Patriots have added LeGarrette Blount and Leon Washington to their backfield mix this offseason, but replacing Woodhead's role in the passing game and on third down appears to be Vereen's job to lose.

"I'd say that I'm approaching this season a little bit differently than I did last season," Vereen said. "Just with a mindset of my role on the team."