Damian Strohmeyer/SI
Damian Strohmeyer/SI

The Vereen Machine

Shane Vereen didn't always get The Patriot Way. Now in his third year, and first as a significant contributor, the multi-purpose back has earned the trust of his coaches and teammates to become one of the Pats’ most dangerous players

By
Greg A. Bedard
· More from Greg·

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It’s one of the signs on a wall deep inside Gillette Stadium that Patriots players see every day. The message isn’t that unusual. They probably heard a version of it either in college or in high school, and they probably didn’t notice this particular sign upon first arriving at the team’s facility:

MENTAL TOUGHNESS = DOING THE RIGHT THING FOR THE TEAM … WHEN EVERYTHING ISN’T PERFECT

This brand of toughness is a must for Patriots players. It’s not just an intrinsic trait that some players walk in with; it is hardened and reinforced every day. Either you develop it, or you won’t be wearing a Patriots uniform for very long. 

Running back Shane Vereen admits—and his coaches privately would agree—he didn’t have it as a rookie in 2011. He’s always had blazing speed, and he’s one of the most natural pass catchers you’ll ever find at his position. But he made a choice along the way to get with the program, and that newfound toughness has transformed him into one of the Patriots’ most dangerous players as they begin their playoff run Saturday night against the Colts. 

“It was a challenge I made to myself, because I saw the way we play here,” Vereen said earlier this week in one of the tunnels at Gillette Stadium. “I had never been a part of a team that is so physically tough—and mentally tough. Once I got that hint, and decided that I needed to be tougher, that’s kind of when things mentally started changing for me.”

* * *

Spending a season under Bill Belichick’s tutelage is a mental gauntlet designed to build the inner drive of a champion. If the media and fans are pumping your tires after a game, expect the opposite treatment in film sessions. You can’t do anything right. It’s amazing you’ve even gotten this far in your career. (In case you’re wondering, quarterback Tom Brady gets it the worst.) At practice, when you’re at your weakest after an arduous grind, or in a film session, just when you’re ready to doze off, Belichick will challenge you with some obscure situation that has presented itself no more than three times in the history of professional football. You better get it right, lest teammates realize they can’t count on you. If not, good luck getting reps in practice.

And Brady isn’t always on the receiving end of such criticism. You might as well curl up in a corner if you haven’t mastered the exact footwork and the defensive reads needed to gain his trust. You’re going to hear it from the walking computer at quarterback—loudly—and you’re also not going to play.

Training camp injuries in his first two seasons got Shane Vereen's career off to a slow start, with the 2011 second-round pick only logging one start before this year. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Training camp injuries in his first two seasons got Shane Vereen’s career off to a slow start, with the 2011 second-round pick only logging one start before this year. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Regarding physical toughness, there is but one rule in Foxborough: if you’re not on the field, it’s as if you were never even there. It might sound cruel, but how else could the Patriots have gone 11-5 while enduring the loss of Brady in 2008? How about finishing 12-4 this season, despite losing Pro Bowl-level performers such as Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Sebastian Vollmer, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Spikes? You don’t lament departures. If you act like they were never there, then there’s nothing to miss. 

Pity, then, Vereen, who came in as a second-round pick in 2011, injured a hamstring early in camp and was barely heard from again: he appeared in five games for a total of 26 snaps. In 2012, Vereen again missed part of camp and the first three games with a foot injury. He rallied to show glimpses of his talent, especially with two receiving touchdowns in a playoff victory over the Texans, but he was still on the outside looking in.

Then everything started falling in place in 2013. Not only did the Patriots let go versatile back Danny Woodhead in free agency, Vereen remained healthy throughout camp and got the necessary reps with Brady and the offensive line. He also showed an increased willingness to run inside; the 5-10, 200-pound back was a sprinter in college and he always preferred to attack the edges on the gridiron, hoping to find open space.

But he toughened up between the tackles and became something more than just a third-down back. He even had a chance to fill the very large shoes of the versatile Kevin Faulk, the glue of the Pats’ Super Bowl-winning teams who retired after the 2011 season. The season opener against the Bills was the first indication that Vereen’s role was changing. After Stevan Ridley was benched in the second quarter for fumbling, Vereen finished with a career-high 101 rushing yards on 14 carries, and seven catches for 58 yards.

After the game, however, the Patriots discovered that Vereen had broken a small bone in his left wrist and needed surgery. His season was in jeopardy. Again.

“I was pretty upset about it and kind of hurt by it,” Vereen says now.

* * *

Though injured players might cease to exist in Belichick’s eyes, that doesn’t mean they can’t come back from oblivion. Shortly after Vereen had surgery in early September, Belichick designated him to return. (Teams can tab one player on IR to come back before the season ends, though he can’t practice for six weeks and he must miss eight games.)

“Bill and I just had a talk, and he told me that was the decision,” Vereen recalls. “He said I can come back and I should be fine when I come back—and it’s a rare injury, something they haven’t dealt with a lot. But they were confident of an entire comeback, and that I could be effective.”

Has he ever.

Shane Vereen has become one of Tom Brady's most versatile options, not only as a running back but also a receiver out of the backfield. Vereen has 47 receptions and 44 carries in eight games this season. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Shane Vereen has become one of Tom Brady’s most versatile options, not only as a running back but also a receiver. Vereen has 47 receptions and 44 carries in eight games this season. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

For the season, the 24-year-old has 91 total touches for 635 yards and four touchdowns. To be more accurate, that’s for half the season, just eight games. His value will only increase in the playoffs. Vereen has become the “matchup player” in the Patriots’ offense, and the most important red-zone weapon after Gronkowski was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will line up Vereen all over the field, and Brady will send him in motion with the goal of getting a linebacker to cover him. There are few who are up to the task.

“The good thing about that is when I’m spread out, and when I’m able to be matched up [against a linebacker], I can do a multitude of things,” Vereen says. “I’m not just running one route. I’m not just running these routes and that’s it. And so because of that and the variety, regardless of who’s out there … the fact that we’re able to mix in so many routes and combinations keeps them off balance, so it helps me out tremendously.”

Vereen wouldn’t be where he is now if he hadn’t gained Brady’s trust. If Brady can’t count on you, you’re not going to play much, and you’re certainly not getting the ball when you do. Earning his confidence is one of the toughest things for a young player in the Patriots’ offense to achieve. But it’s an absolute must. It had long been a work in progress for Vereen, probably because he missed so many reps in his first two seasons, but the chemistry finally blossomed this season. 

“We’re better now than we have been since I’ve been here,” Vereen says, “just as far as being on the same page, just knowing each other, knowing what he’s looking for; and the same with him, he knows what I’m looking for. It’s growing a lot. And it’s going to get better and I’m looking forward to that, too.” 

“We communicate all the time about what I’m looking for and what I need from him,” Tom Brady says. “He’s earned that trust.”

But Vereen might be underselling himself, as Brady often will seek him out for input on plays.

“He’s got a great understanding for [the mental side of the game], so when someone communicates that they know exactly what you’re talking about, and they know how to do it, then you trust them. He has a high football IQ,” Brady says. “We communicate all the time about what I’m looking for and what I need from him. He’s earned that trust.”

He’s earned that trust.

There is no higher praise to be had from Brady. And if that glowing report means Belichick will pick on Vereen in an upcoming film session, well, he now has the toughness to handle it.

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42 comments
magic mushroom
magic mushroom

Logan Ryan will be the difference maker. let's go patriots!

Steve F
Steve F

Vereen was not a "sprinter" at CAL. He was always a tough inside runner.

Cam_Ward_SD
Cam_Ward_SD

This guy writes for the Boston Globe and is a huge Pats homer. I really could care less about what another NE shmuck has to say. They already take up 1/3 of ESPN everyday. 


Fact is the Patriots are an average team without Gronk.

Jim21
Jim21

" The Patriot Way" - Win your division full of sub-500 teams, pile up wins against them, then fail to win the big game. Sounds about right...

mvd
mvd

Excellent article, in depth and to the point.  Vereen will be the difference this playoff season as he will extend the drives with his 3rd down plays that will enable Pats to chew the clock.  Luckily for Pats, he and Blount already fumbled in last game so they would be more careful against the Colts and in the 2 games that will follow this season.  Brady can now use Vereen in a variety of ways to keep the chain moving. Would like to see Kendrell Thompkins to develop like Vereen so that Pats can get a genuine deep threat.

RescuedfromESPN
RescuedfromESPN

@Cam_Ward_SD 7-2 without Gronk, victory over the saints, and beating the Ravens by 34 on the road (a team denver beat by 22 at home.) I'd say we're elite, and are gonna win the sb

BillBeattie
BillBeattie

@Cam_Ward_SD 12-4 is average, even with a half dozen Pro-bowlers out? In your dreams, knucklehead.

grgkstnz
grgkstnz

they aren't as good that's for sure. But still better than average. They won a lot of games without gronk this year.

rjl8125
rjl8125

@mikewichter Princess Kitty (aka reedster) does not comment on football, all he does is spew his hatred for the Pats and make homophobic references about Brady and Peter King. It's really quite pathetic. 


I don't think he actually knows anything about the game itself. 

sjq294
sjq294

@Reedster2185Read the article by Scott Sheaffer in Bleacher Report June 14, 2009. Many teams did game taping like Belichick did. He did not use it improperly during game day. Rather he studied tendencies for the future. The NFL rule violations were questionable as outlined in this article.

BillieBob
BillieBob

@Reedster2185  


Little known fact -- Jethro Tull based the character Aqualung on Reedster and his obsession with all things Patriots. You can picture it in the lyrics --


"Snot is running down his nose --

greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes.
Aqualung
Drying in the cold sun --
Watching as the frilly panties run."

CMassrey
CMassrey

@Reedster2185 , oh please.  You haters are pathetic.  You just can't stand that even AFTER spygate (something a bunch of teams were doing), the Pats are still consistently putting themselves in the playoffs.

grgkstnz
grgkstnz

@Jim21 actually the AFC east is the 3rd toughest division in the league based on win/loss records with only 1 sub 500 team. AFC West and NFC West are the only divisions better which makes the afc east the 2nd toughest in the AFC. No idea why people continue to state that the afc east is an "easy" division. 2 of the teams were vying for wildcard spots. 

bookmason2
bookmason2

@Jim21 

They also beat the number 1 team in the AFC, as did the other two AFC playoff teams.

Not sure how they piled up wins any better than Denver did, records of teams they played

NE opponents record 99-109, Denver opponents record 96-112, I game difference between two teams in wins.

JuicySquid24
JuicySquid24

@Jim21 Brady is the all time leader in QB playoff victories...so how have they failed to win big games?

CMassrey
CMassrey

@Jim21 , hey... at least they are getting there.  How many times has your team been in the big game recently, let alone win it?  Yeah... I thought so.  Pathetic jealousy.  I'm not even a Pats fan, but I would love for my team to have that kind of consistency!

bulltorch
bulltorch

@Jim21 that would make sense... but its been more than a decade... The patriots have given their division  more than enough time to catch up... they can't because the Patriots are the most consistent organization in the NFL

Jay P
Jay P

bookmason2, you can't use facts and logic to these haters. They probably have no idea the rules of football. They are just confused little girls that pick the team they like based on the what city has the best beach.

Jim21
Jim21

@CMassrey @Jim21 It's not jealousy... It's Patriot Fatigue. They have been consistent in the regular season when it comes to reeling off wins but when the games really matter, they fail. If the Patriot Way is being a really good regular season team and then not winning the big one (even when they won 16 regular season games, they lost to the 9-7 Giants) then yeah, they nailed it. 

RescuedfromESPN
RescuedfromESPN

@Reedster2185 @RescuedfromESPN @Cam_Ward_SD Oh and your team must be so successful since 2007. Let's think, 2 SB appearances (should be wins if not for 2 miracle catches, 5 playoff wins, 3 AFC title games, 6 division titles, highest win %. Better than your team, and proud of it.

BillBeattie
BillBeattie

@Reedster2185 @CMassrey They have been in two more superbowls and just lost both by a hair. And they have had the best won-lost record in the NFL since then as well. It's a lot of fun being a Pats fan. Tough luck for you.

rjl8125
rjl8125

@Reedster2185 @rjl8125 Seems like more posters on this board agree with me than you Princess Kitty.


If you don't like the coverage the Pats get, don't click on the articles.

rjl8125
rjl8125

@Reedster2185  You whine and cry like a six year old schoolgirl.For someone who claims to hate the Pats you sure seem to spend a lot of time zeroing in on every article about them, or every mention of them. Sometimes you cry about them in comment sections of articles that are not even about them, or mention them. 


 I think from now on  your official name on this board is Princess Kitty.

Jim21
Jim21

@Jay P @Reedster2185 @CMassrey I recall the Patriots losing to the 9-7 Giants in the Super Bowl that year. Call me crazy but I'd take a mediocre record and win the Super Bowl over living off a 16-0 record and losing the Super Bowl. 

jopomp2
jopomp2

@Reedster2185@CMassrey Reedster....You are ignorant and pathetically jealous.  The three SB's won by the Patriots were close games.....not decided till the end of the 4th quarter.  The two SB losses ( post Spygate)  to the Giants were similarly not decided till the last few ticks of the clock.   The Patriots could easily be 5-0, or 0-5 during the past 12 years.

Jay P
Jay P

I wish I could edit my comment. I meant to type "how many has your team won?"

Jay P
Jay P

@Reedster2185 @CMassrey Hey Reedster, how many has your team one? How many has your team gone too? Did your team go 16-0 in the regular season? Does your mom know you are posting on here?

grgkstnz
grgkstnz

@Reedster2185@Jay P@JuicySquid24@Jim21 so in the last 10 years post spygate? is it really so hard to say in the last 6 years - any other caveats you want to put in - "last 10 years post spygate on odd years" perhaps?


In the last 10 years the pats won 2 sb's. Since 2007 they have been to the superbowl twice and lost in really close games.


pretty good being a pats fan - they always have a chance.

Jay P
Jay P

@Reedster2185 @JuicySquid24 @Jim21 The Broncos have won 0 Super Bowls in the last 10 years..so have the 49ers..Seahawks....Chargers. Do you see a trend here? Not every team wins. Not every team can win it every year. At least the Patriots get to the Super Bowl. How many times have the Broncos, Chargers, 49ers, Colts, Panthers, Saints been to the Super Bowl in the last 10 years?

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