Joseph Addai fills important role

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It started with Antowain Smith, then Corey Dillon. Sammy Morris filled the role, followed by Fred Taylor and most recently Kevin Faulk.

Almost every year in Bill Belichick's coaching tenure, the New England Patriots have had a veteran running back on the roster, someone whose experience helps on the field and, in some cases, more so in the meeting room.

This is the role that appears earmarked for Joseph Addai in 2012.

Such is life in the NFL that a 29-year-old earns such respected veteran status, but that's exactly how the former Indianapolis Colts back is viewed by the two younger runners that the Patriots' coaching staff ultimately hopes will lead the charge, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen.

"I look up to him, almost like a big brother," said Ridley, the 2011 third-round draft choice who showed flashes of excellence as a rookie. "To have this time with him, like I had with Faulk, I'm going to cherish it and learn everything I can from him.

"He's an awesome guy, somebody who has seen it all. And he's very willing to teach. It's a comfort zone for me to have someone I can depend on who has seen everything that I can learn from and try to better myself."

Ridley and Addai already had a connection, having both attended Louisiana State, even though it was at different times. They plan to once again train together in Baton Rouge, La., before training camp begins in late July.

For Vereen, the connection to Addai is more recent. He had admired him from afar at both LSU and with the Colts, appreciating his all-around game as an early-down option, but also how he could play on third down.

Now that he has worked side by side with Addai for the last month, he's come to appreciate something else about him.

"The way he learns the game is a little different, it's from a different perspective, and you always love to hear a different perspective from different guys," said Vereen, the 2011 second-round pick out of Cal.

Part of Addai's perspective is naturally rooted from what he learned in Indianapolis. He previously admitted that it was different crossing lines to the other side of what had been a heated rivalry, but on Tuesday, he spoke convincingly about how he's closed that chapter of his career.

No hard feelings. He's just happy to have landed in a place that feels more and more like the right fit every day he's around it.

"I like it. They take care of their players here. They do a lot of things to make sure that guys are ready to play football," Addai said after Tuesday's mandatory minicamp practice. "They've been doing a great job as far as treating me and taking care of my body."

The 5-foot-11, 214-pound Addai, whom the Patriots probably would have selected in the first round of the 2006 draft had they not picked Laurence Maroney, can appreciate such care now that he's racked up more than 1,000 career carries. That's a lot of hits for a back to absorb, which some point to as the reason for his statistical decline the last two years. He is coming off a Peyton Manning-less season in which he played in 12 games, rushing for just 433 yards on 118 attempts (3.7-yard average).

The Colts let Addai go after their regime change, and the Patriots, after not selecting a running back in the draft, signed him to a one-year deal May 10, choosing him over the other two backs they worked out, Tim Hightower and Ryan Grant. Addai is prepared for anything.

"Come in and block. Come in and catch the ball. Come in and run. Whatever they ask me to do, game by game, that's what I'm doing," he said following Tuesday's practice in which his workload was scaled back compared to Ridley and Vereen. "It's good to be out here with these guys. You watch them over the years playing, and how dedicated they are. I'm glad to be a part of it."

When asked if he's noticed any similarities between Manning and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Addai kept it simple.

"I would say both are winners," he said. "I think the difference is that I started off over there as a rookie and now I'm in my seventh season, so I handle it a little bit different. It's a great opportunity to play with those guys, as well as the other players on the team."

One aspect that stands out about Brady is how vocal he can be, on the field and beyond.

"He talks to you about a lot of things," said Addai, who grew up in Houston. "Obviously he's a quarterback and he knows everything that's going on out there. He can always help me out, just little small talk in the locker room, the training room and the meetings, just trying to talk to him and see how he's thinking so I can get on the same page."

As for where that stands, the veteran of the Patriots' running back corps notices progress, even if it feels like 2006 all over again.

"I feel like a rookie, as far as understanding the plays," he said. "It's just trying to understand the plays and kind of know the ins and outs and how to do certain things. I think I'm at that point."