- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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To get playing time in New England, the coaching staff must build trust and confidence that their players will always know their assignments. At its best, New England's offense is machine-like and doesn't tolerate many mistakes.
That brings us to second-year running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Physically, both 2011 draft picks are capable of being New England's starting tailback this season. But it's the nuances of the game that Ridley and Vereen must have down before the start of the regular season.
Ridley and Vereen could be dynamic together. They have young legs and bring an explosive element to New England's running game. Ridley is strong between the tackles and averaged 5.1 yards per carry last season. Vereen battled through injuries as a rookie but is one of New England's better athletes.
However, both combined for just two career starts, and New England isn't sure how they'll perform under pressure. For example, last year Ridley fumbled once in the regular-season finale and once in the playoffs against the Denver Broncos. The rookie never saw the football again in the AFC Championship Game or Super Bowl XLVI.
There is a reason the Patriots were not afraid to lean on less-gifted athletes like Troy Brown, Deion Branch, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Kevin Faulk on offense. Despite some physical limitations, these players always knew their roles and rarely made mental mistakes.
Ridley and Vereen need to work diligently this summer to begin earning that same level of trust from the Patriots' coaching staff. Pure athleticism works for some teams, but that's certainly not the case in New England.