FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Trust.

If you’re going to be a third-down running back for the New England Patriots – that is, a back whose specialty is catching passes out of the backfield – you’ve got to earn quarterback Tom Brady’s trust. And not just as a receiver.

Brady wants someone who’s willing, he said, “to do some dirty work.”

In other words, he better be able to block. Shane Vereen learned this very early in his four-year career with the Patriots.

Now the third-down back for the New York Giants, Vereen said pass blocking took a priority over pass catching for anyone who played that position for Coach Bill Belichick.

“Knowing your protection, knowing who you have because they’re going to put you in there,” said Vereen, who will face his former teammates for the first time Sunday when the 8-0 Patriots play the 5-4 Giants at MetLife Stadium at 4:25 p.m.

“You can’t be having the franchise quarterback killed.”

The Patriots and Brady will look for someone to step into that role now that Dion Lewis has been lost for the season with a knee injury. Lewis, one of the team’s most productive players this season, tore the ACL in his left knee while running after he caught a screen pass from Brady in Sunday’s 27-10 victory over Washington.

Lewis was second on the Patriots in rushing with 234 yards and third in receiving, with 36 catches for 388 yards. He had scored four touchdowns.

Who steps in? Most likely the position will be split between second-year player James White and veteran Brandon Bolden, who is a core member of New England’s special teams. Both have the skills to play a position that has become an integral part of the offense.

Over the years, players such as Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead and Vereen have been productive in both the running and passing games. Faulk, in fact, is the team’s fifth all-time leading receiver with 431 catches and the team’s career leader in all-purpose yards with 12,349.

“Yeah, it’s a pretty important position in our offense,” said Brady. “Dion did a great job of it this year. Brandon has done a great job when he’s had the chance. James White has done it for us. And we’ve had some great players at that position over the years.”

Asked if there was a defining characteristic of the position, Brady said the player had to be dependable.

“There are a lot of things you ask that player to do,” he said. “Not just catch the ball, but when you hand it to him, what are you going to do? And blitz pickup. It’s kind of a lot of things that happen back there.

“We have quite a few (pass blocking) protections so when it comes down to it, you’ve got to have someone that you have a lot of confidence in that can obviously be a playmaker with the ball, but also be dependable to do some dirty work, that when the ball is getting throw to Gronk (Rob Gronkowski) or Jules (Julian Edelman) or Danny (Amendola) or Jo (Brandon LaFell), you’ve got someone in the backfield that’s picking up blitzers or maybe helping clean out the pocket.”

Bill Belichick said the position evolved during the late 1980s when teams started using a third-down back to take the pressure off the starter and provide a change of pace – someone who was quick and could catch the ball.

“It was a way of splitting the load,” said Belichick.

LeGarrette Blount will be New England’s lead back the rest of the way, much as he was the last two seasons. But he’s more of a power runner and can’t play every down. Belichick is confident the Patriots will fill Lewis’ void.

“We have confidence in everybody on our roster, however those roles fall,” he said. “That’s why we have those guys. I’m sure they’ll be prepared and step up, and give us their best and do a good job for us.”

Vereen, who caught a team-high 11 passes in the Patriots’ 28-24 victory over Seattle in the last Super Bowl, said White has the talent to be successful in that role. White has played in six games with seven catches for 52 yards.

“I know James, I know he works hard, he’s a smart guy, he’s a talented back,” said Vereen. “I’m sure the more they use him, the more experience and opportunity that he gets, the more plays he’ll make.”

White, in his second year out of Wisconsin, said he learned a lot from Vereen last year. “Shane meant a lot to me,” he said. “He helped me in all areas.”

Especially blocking.

“Blocking is very important,” said White, who added that he blocked plenty at Wisconsin. “Whether you’re any back on the team, you’ve got to be able to protect. You’re not going to be out there unless you can do it.”

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels certainly sees White being more involved. “I really like (White’s) approach and mentality,” he said. “He’s got a maturity about him that I really feel good about. He’ll have an opportunity now to step in there and play a little more with Dion’s situation.”

White, who rushed for 4,015 yards and scored 45 rushing touchdowns at Wisconsin, doesn’t care what role he has.

“I mean, I’m going to do whatever the coach asks me to do, no matter – first down, second down, third down,” he said. “Any chance I get to go out there, I’m going to go out there and try to make plays.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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