Thursday, September 3, 2009

History not on Green-Ellis' side

At some point, BenJarvus Green-Ellis will have to prove he can run against a first-team defense in the NFL.

(No, last season's Buffalo Bills doesn't count.)

In the meantime, though, he'll stick with the statement he made on Thursday night against the New York Giants. The second-year running back, a former undrafted free agent whose roster spot is far from secure, rushed for 125 yards and three touchdowns as the Patriots came from behind win their final preseason game.

He was the first Patriots' running back to gain 100 yards in a preseason game in the Bill Belichick era. Michael Cloud rushed for 93 yards in Week 4 of the preseason in 2004 -- and he promptly was released during final roster cuts that same preseason.

(Let that be a word of caution to all those who will declare triumphantly that Green-Ellis earned himself a roster spot with his performance on Friday.)

With Sammy Morris still sidelined and Kevin Faulk, Laurence Maroney and Fred Taylor virtual locks to make the roster, Green-Ellis received all but one of the Patriots' rushing attempts in the game. If that was a surprise to him, he wasn't going to let on.

"I wasn't sure how many reps I was going to get tonight," Green-Ellis said after the game. "I was just going to go out and play every play hard and do my job."

He didn't do much in the first quarter against some of the Giants' first-teamers, but he dug the Patriots out of a hole on his first carry of the second quarter, squirting free on the left side for a 16-yard gain behind rookie George Bussey.

He then scored the Patriots' first offensive touchdown of the game, a one-yard dive to the right behind Alex Smith, Ben Watson and Billy Yates in the final minute of the second half.

It was in the second half, though, that Green-Ellis came alive. Even though the Giants waited longer to play their practice-squad candidates and thus should have had fresher players on the field at the end, it was Green-Ellis who seemed to get stronger as the game progressed.

He pounded through the line for a two-yard gain on third-and-1 on the Patriots' first possession of the third quarter, riding the blocks of Smith, Watson and Wesley Britt to earn a key first down. Brian Hoyer then found wide receiver Robert Ortiz in the back of the end zone for a touchdown that cut the Giants' lead to three points

But it seems as though fans already know Green-Ellis can be a grinder, a back who can pick up a yard or two behind solid blocking. What remains to be seen is his ability to be a big-play back, a running back who can hit a seam and break through and make the big play.

He did that in the fourth quarter, sprinting untouched up the middle and deking Giants cornerback DeAndre Wright en route to the front pylon of the end zone and his third touchdown of the game.

"There wasn't really that much open field," he said. "A guy came around and got his block, and a guy missed a tackle. The receiver was blocking the corner and the safety was coming, so I just went around the receiver's block and outran the safety."

It still was the preseason, and it still mostly came against the Giants' second- or third-team defenders. But Green-Ellis didn't get much of a chance to rush against the Giants' first team defenders. All he could do was outplay the defenders he was facing.

"I look at every opportunity to go out and play football and have fun," he said. "I love to go out there and compete and play against guys, and that was just another chance."

And all he can do now is wait for the Patriots to decide if his effort this month has earned him a roster spot. The performance of Cloud in 2004 didn't earn the 29-year-old a roster spot, but he did hook on with the Giants that season and returned to the Patriots a year later in a reserve role.

The same fate might await Green-Ellis. Then again, with Morris getting older and seemingly unable to stay healthy, the former undrafted free agent might have earned himself new life.

"I don't think about that type of stuff," he said. "Those types of things are out of my control. I just try to go out every day and compete and work hard and do my job."

No comments: