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Bigger Roles For These Patriots Players?

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Players like Shane Vereen figure to have an increased role with the Patriots this year. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Players like Shane Vereen figure to have an increased role with the Patriots this year. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

In seemingly one fell swoop on Jan. 13 (well, more like three fell swoops), Patriots running back Shane Vereen did one significant thing for the present: He helped defeat the Houston Texans in the AFC divisional round playoff game at Gillette Stadium to advance to the championship game against the Ravens. He altered his future with his three-touchdown performance that night.

Vereen was drafted in 2011 a round before the Patriots took Stevan Ridley – the Patriots’ feature running back. Injuries kept Vereen frequenting the list of scratched players week after week. But finally, on one of the biggest stages of the NFL calendar year, Vereen broke out.

Heading into the 2013 season, the Patriots have several players on their roster likely to see increased roles with the team, and Vereen tops that list. Especially after the departure of Danny Woodhead, who signed a two-year contract with the Chargers just weeks ago.

Woodhead was the ideal third-down back, who was shifty with the ball in his hands, capable of catching passes out of the backfield and throwing blocks for Tom Brady. Now that role belongs to Vereen, who in the 2012 regular season, rushed 62 times for 251 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught eight passes for 149 yards and a touchdown. Then Jan. 13 happened.

His 41 rushing yards (one touchdown) and 83 receiving yards (two touchdowns) will serve to be a turning point in his career. It was, and is, evident Bill Belichick and the organization can trust Vereen’s skills.

So far this offseason, the Patriots haven’t made much of a play for veteran free agent defensive ends like most thought they would, which could spell one thing: the team is confident in Chandler Jones’ ability entering his second year in the league.

In 2012, Jones came out of the gates on fire and looked like the player the Patriots traded up in the draft to grab. But then injuries set in, and Jones missed several games with ankle issues. But not before his production dropped after monster numbers in the beginning of the year for a rookie defensive lineman (five sacks and 13 solo tackles in six games).

Jones should bounce back in 2013 as a wiser and definitely stronger pass rusher. With a sore ankle, the burst off the line diminishes significantly. But with an entire offseason to recover and build up more muscle, Jones will be an extremely effective defensive player for the Patriots.

After a long, football-free 2012 for linebacker Dane Fletcher, the fourth-year player should finally be back to normal after undergoing ACL repair. Fletcher missed all of 2012 with a torn ACL, but was projected to be the Patriots’ top reserve linebacker and a starter on some occasions.

Obviously any player who sits an entire year will have an increased role when healthy, but Fletcher is different. He’s much quicker than Brandon Spikes, and is more of a coverage linebacker than a pass rusher and run stuffer. In 23 career games, Fletcher has 55 tackles, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Look for Fletcher to have an impact against teams with pass-catching running backs. He projects to come back nicely in 2013.

Also keep an eye out for Julian Edelman’s role to increase. Teams already know about Edelman’s ability, but after suffering a broken foot in week 13 on Dec. 2 that ended his season, some question his durability.

If Danny Amendola proves to be a better outside threat than on the inside of the Patriots offense, then that slot receiver position belongs to Edelman. And he can work it well. He’s a sure bet to catch 40-plus passes this year, if he can stay healthy.