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'It' happens: Cal coach says Patriots will love running back Shane Vereen

by: Christopher Price on Fri, 05/13/2011 - 12:21am

When it comes to Shane Vereen, Cal associate head coach/run game coordinator Ron Gould chooses his words carefully.

“You remember watching Marshall Faulk, and you would see the things that he did over the course of his career, and you say, ‘How did he do that?’ ” asked Gould, invoking the name of the former NFL MVP.

“There were times where I said, ‘How did Shane do that?’ ” Gould said of Vereen, who was taken in the second round of the NFL draft last month by the Patriots.

“Shane has ‘it.’ It’s hard to articulate what ‘it’ is, but he has it. When you see the things he does — his versatility, his blocking skills, his ability to run between the tackles — that’s how I would define what made Marshall Faulk successful. That’s what Shane has.”

High praise for the 5-foot-10, 204-pounder out of Cal, but few people know Vereen better than Gould, who was his position coach with the Bears. In his three seasons — one of which was spent sharing starting duties with Jahvid Best — Gould watched the California native finish his career ranked among the school’s all-time leaders in rushing touchdowns (29, tied for third), total touchdowns (35, tied for fourth), all-purpose yards (4,069, fifth), rushing yards (2,834, seventh), 100-yard rushing games (11, seventh) and scoring (210, tied for ninth).

All this at a school that has turned out NFL-ready running backs at a steady clip over the last decade — not including Vereen, seven of Gould’s backs in the last six years have gone on to the NFL, a group that includes Best, Marshawn Lynch and J.J. Arrington. (Gould said Vereen and Best fed off each other: “They had an unbelievable relationship,” he said. “If Jahvid scored a touchdown, Shane wanted to score two, and vice versa. They fed off each other.”)

But of that group of NFL-ready backs that have been turned out by Cal, Gould said Vereen distinguished himself on two counts.

“First of all, before you even talk about ability or those other things, you have to talk about his character. He’s unbelievable in terms of character. You never have to worry about him embarrassing the program or anything like that,” Gould said of Vereen, who was taken with the 56th overall pick last month by the Patriots.

“The second thing is that he’s a fierce competitor, and he wants to win at everything he does. This guy, the last few years, he put the Cal program on his back and just did a great job. This is a kid who can carry the ball between the tackles and catch the ball in space and block. The Patriots are getting a complete back.”

Gould said it was always easy to peg Vereen as a monster talent, but any questions about whether or not he might be able to succeed as a physical back were answered toward the end of the 2009 season when Vereen carried the ball 42 times for 193 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-28 win over archrival Stanford.

“That 42-carry game, that guy willed us to victory in that game,” Gould said of Vereen, who was in the midst of an incredible stretch of 88 carries in three games. “He just would not say die. We kept calling on him and calling on him and he continued to answer the bell each time.”

It was performances like that that earned Vereen a reputation for toughness. While he remains a dependable presence as a pass-catcher out of the backfield — he had 74 receptions for 674 yards in three seasons — he also brings a physical presence that could surprise some people.

“He’s more of a complete back than a lot of people give him credit for,” Gould said. “We’re more of a physical team, a north-south type of team, and Shane did a fabulous job for us week in and week out of running between the tackles.”

As for how he’ll fit in New England, Vereen enters a fluid situation: If the vets like Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk are gone in 2011, Vereen and fellow rookie Stevan Ridley could become an important part of the offense. But regardless of what happens in 2011, Gould believes Vereen will be a favorite with coaches, teammates and New England football fans sooner rather than later.

“That work ethic is something that not a lot of people bring to the table. He’s a talented guy with a tremendous work ethic, to go along with being a fierce competitor. It’s an impressive combination,” Gould said.

“Coach Belichick will utilize Shane’s talent. He will find a mismatch with the opposing team and he will exploit it with Shane. Shane is going to come to work every day. He’ll be prepared and work hard, and they will get the best out of him.”