The undrafted rookie running back out of Ole Miss has been suspended the past four games. You may have just forgotten about him.
Bolden only had seven carries in the first three games of the year, before exploding in a Week 4 win over Buffalo with 137 yards, a touchdown and an 8.56 yards per carry average. It was starting to look like the Patriots might have a two headed monster in the backfield with Bolden and Ridley, then Bolden got hurt against Seattle. He missed a few weeks before getting suspended by the NFL for PEDs.
This week is the first game he'll be able to return. The question remains, how big of a role will he have?
When Bolden was first suspended, Patriots fans cried out that he was going to feel the wrath of Bill Belichick. I didn't necessarily buy into this at first - pointing to the case with Brandon Spikes in his rookie year.
That was before Jermaine Cunningham was suspended for PEDs as well. It leaves open the possibility in my mind that Belichick might want to send a message to the locker room that that kind of thing won't be tolerated. He might do that by benching Bolden. Still, that possibility is slight.
I believe Bolden can still play a role in this offense, the evidence is in what the Patriots have done without him.
The Patriots run the ball a lot. In fact, they are second in the league in rushing attempts. But without Bolden playing the role he earned himself in week 4, they haven't run it as absurdly often.
The last time Bolden played an entire healthy game, the Patriots ran the ball 50 times against the Broncos - Bolden had 14 of them. The game before that, they ran the ball 39 times with Bolden taking 16 of them. On the year he averaged about 5.44 yards per attempt and the Patriots ran for over 200 yards in both of those games.
Since then, the Patriots have run the ball 33 times at the most. That's still a lot but that instance came in their Thanksgiving blowout of the Jets where there was a lot of running out the clock. The only other time the Patriots went over 30 carries was in the overtime game against the Jets when they attempted 31 runs. Even then, the extra possession in overtime might schew that stat a little bit.
Next, look at Shane Vereen - who stepped in when Bolden went down. Vereen was actually the highest touted prospect among the Patriots running back corps and the highest drafted as well. He hasn't had quite the production on the ground that Bolden had, and he hasn't had as much work either.
The most Vereen has carried the football - in his entire NFL career - is 11 times. And that came in another blowout, of the Colts this year. He averages 3.76 yards per carry in 2012.
Vereen never got to handle the same workload that Bolden did, and he never produced at the level he did in the running game. That's not to say Vereen doesn't have his own talents and can help the team in other ways. Just because he's a running back doesn't mean he's the same player as Bolden.
Translation: Bolden shouldn't lose his job to Vereen after being injured and suspended. Vereen has a different role in the offense.
Will the Patriots start to run the ball 50 times every game now that Bolden is back? It's unlikely. As is said so often, the Pats are a game plan offense. With stout defenses in the Texans and 49ers coming up they might look to exploit those team's defenses in other ways than through a barrage on the ground.
Still, Brandon Bolden shouldn't be phased out of the offense because of the time he missed. If he don't see him, he's either not in shape or being punished by Belichick not because he's been pushed aside on the depth chart.