Patriots rookie RB in the New England spotlight
FOXBOROUGH (AP) — Brandon Bolden’s first regular-season session with the media on Thursday had to be shifted from the traditional spot in front of his stall to a more spacious area in the corner of the New England Patriots locker room to accommodate the throng of reporters anticipating his arrival.
Standing against the wall, his eyes wide and mind ready, the running back stared out at three to four rows of eager reporters, both waiting patiently for the other to commence the interview.
“First off,” Bolden said with a wide smile, “how’s everybody doing today?”
The rookie had no trouble breaking the ice Sunday, either, delivering a breakout performance that not only stamped his presence in the Patriots offense, but also helped put New England’s running game back on the map.
The undrafted free agent out of Ole Miss rushed for 137 yards and a touchdown in a 52-28 win over the Buffalo Bills, spearheading a rushing attack that had been lacking in recent years.
Bolden, though, is ready to put his starring role behind him.
“Last week happened. Now we’re getting ready for Denver. We have them coming here, so just forget about it,” he said. “It was a game. Everybody was happy. It happened, it’s in the past and now we’re moving on.”
Bolden teamed with second-year running back Stevan Ridley, who carried the ball 22 times for 106 yards with two touchdowns, to become the first pair of Patriots backs to surpass 100 yards on the ground in a single game since 1980.
The talented tandem is trying to replace the reliable running of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who began his rookie campaign on the practice squad before blossoming into a bullish back who scored 24 touchdowns in his last two seasons with New England and signed with the Bengals this offseason.
Learning from each other as they go, Ridley and Bolden have New England ranked eighth in the league in rushing at 144 yards per game, one year after finishing 20th.
“We all realize that we are a young group and I guess we kind of embrace that as a group, if that makes sense,” Bolden said. “Because we all know that we have to pick each other up. ‘Hey you messed up on this. Let’s work on this.’
“We try to make each other better and that’s pretty much our game plan.”
Bolden admitted he had no idea how many reps he’d receive prior to the Buffalo game. He says he’s in the dark again this week, too, yet is ready for whatever comes his way against Denver.
“You go into every week of practice, going in and trying to learn as much of the game plan as you can,” he said. “Because in case your number does get called, you have the opportunity to go execute everything.”
He did Sunday.
Bolden carried the ball 16 times against the Bills, averaging 8.6 yards per touch, after entering the game with just seven carries for 15 yards on the season. He also scored his second touchdown of the season on what quickly could become his trademark approach, using his 5-foot-11, 220-pound frame to run over Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore on a 7-yard counter.
“Offensive line, first off, did a real great job of just giving everybody a chance to run,” Bolden said. “And what you do after you get the ball is pretty much all you.”
Sounds like a lesson he learned from Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
“I think the thing that really matters the most with the backs is how many yards they gain on their own,” Belichick said. “Any back can really run until the first guy gets to him, that’s not really that special, but it’s what guys do after they could or should be brought down, whether they can continue to add yards to the play after that. That’s the mark really of a good runner.”
New England may have seen that when other teams didn’t.
Bolden scored 33 touchdowns during his collegiate career, second most in school history, yet still wasn’t selected in last year’s draft. He said he didn’t pay much attention, though. He was just eager for an opportunity.
Now, he’s making the most of it.
“I really just wanted to play football,” Bolden said. “Drafted or undrafted, it really didn’t matter.”
So far, so good.