Though he signed with the Giants, the former do-it-all Patriots running back is still living in the afterglow of a Super Bowl victory. Did he notice anything about deflated footballs? No, but he’ll see what happens in the future
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Shane Vereen was all over the field during an offseason practice earlier this week, both running and catching passes out of the backfield. The running back, who signed with the Giants when free agency opened in March, adds a different dimension to a backfield that also includes Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams, and he looks to be in line for a big role in coordinator Ben McAdoo’s offense. During his four seasons in New England, Vereen emerged as an X-factor for the Patriots offense, but his role was more significant than that tag might imply. Last season, the 26-year-old touched the ball 148 times, more than any Patriots offensive player not named Tom Brady, with an average gain of 5.7 yards per touch. A few months after joining his new team, Vereen talked to The MMQB about why he chose the Giants, the most important instruction Eli Manning has given him so far, and the scrutiny his old team in Foxborough is facing.
THE MMQB: Your contract with the Giants got done quickly. What stood out about the Giants when you were picking a team in free agency?
VEREEN: The success of this organization. I asked around about the team, about the organization, and I heard nothing but great things and nothing but the highest of expectations about this place. Very family-oriented. I felt that coming in, and I enjoy that. I asked around with guys who played here, a couple guys in California I work out with, and previously I had met Odell [Beckham, Jr.]. So I hit them up, trying to talk to them and learn things I didn’t know. They filled me in.
THE MMQB: How did Beckham pitch you on the Giants? He probably relished the idea of adding another weapon to the offense.
VEREEN: He said it was a young team with a lot of talent. He loves it here, and he was excited for this upcoming season. That was really all I needed to hear. I love when guys are excited to be somewhere. That makes me want to be there and excited for the growth.
THE MMQB: What were your options in free agency?
VEREEN: There were other offers, but I felt like this was the right fit for me. I felt like this was the right place for me. And I haven’t looked back yet. It’s been a learning process, but it’s been fun. I couldn’t even tell you [how many offers I had] because it all happened so fast. Free agency opened and then by about noon West Coast time I was going to be a Giant. It happened so quickly, so I don’t even know if there was much thought process. There were a couple offers, but once I head the Giants were interested, I was very interested as well.
THE MMQB: You add another dimension to this offense. How do you think you will fit in?
VEREEN: There are roles in this offense, I believe. I’m just trying to come into my role, come into my little piece of the pie. I take a lot of pride in everything a running back does. Not just catching the ball out of the backfield, but running and blocking and all that entails. I guess we’ll see as time goes on. It’s still kind of early, and I’m trying to learn the playbook and the terminology, but I think the role will create itself as we move forward.
THE MMQB: A big part of your development in New England was not just getting yards on the outside with your speed, but learning how to attack the middle and become more than just a third-down back. How did you develop that part of your game?
VEREEN: Repetition. Practice. And understanding how certain offenses work and what you need to do to make an offense go.
THE MMQB: You had 52 catches for 447 yards last season. What makes you good at catching the ball?
VEREEN: It’s always been kind of natural to me, but I’ve worked at it tirelessly. Even when I was little, playing catch with my dad, he would take me through little drills, just messing around. It’s always been natural, but I can only get better, and I want to get better.
THE MMQB: In New England, you weren’t going to get on the field on third downs unless Brady trusted that you could pick up the blitz. How did you earn that trust?
VEREEN: That was a huge learning curve for me. I felt like I had to learn the game from a different perspective. Really sit down and learn defenses, and Xs and Os, and blitzes and blitz packages, and coverages, which took a while. But I’m happy I learned it, because I feel like it puts me a step ahead of the learning curve now in this offense. I feel like I can conceptualize defenses a little bit better.
THE MMQB: What’s something you have learned about Eli Manning so far?
VEREEN: He is very patient with me, which is good. I’ve needed some patience. He’s been right there to help me out and to guide me along. And I’m very appreciative of that. I think our relationship will continue to grow and get better. Because every offense, every quarterback, likes things done a certain way. Learning how he likes certain routes run, certain protections picked up. It’s kind of cool. I’m enjoying it.
THE MMQB: An example of one instruction he’s given you?
VEREEN: Pick up the blitz! “When you see it, go ahead—you don’t have to wait for me to make the call.” He’s a great leader, and I think this whole offense, this whole team, will fall behind him and he’ll lead the way for us.
THE MMQB: The Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI win against New England is part of this franchise’s legend. You were a rookie for the Patriots that season, and even though you didn’t play in that game, what was it like seeing it from the other side?
VEREEN: Heartbreak. Any time you lose a game of that magnitude, it’s hard not to be heartbroken. Especially the way it came down to the end. What stood out to me about the Giants is they fought for the whole four quarters. They put a drive together at the end of the game to go win it. Being on [the Patriots’] side, it was heartbreaking, but luckily I was able to change the fate last year.
THE MMQB: Your best memory from the Super Bowl XLIX win against Seattle?
VEREEN: The confetti angels, laying on the ground. That’s something you always dream of, something you always think about. You always see other guys doing it on TV. Luckily we were able to capitalize on our moment.
THE MMQB: In the months since the Super Bowl, the Deflategate controversy has hung over the Pats. Have the allegations cast any kind of shadow for you on being part of a championship team?
VEREEN: Not at all. It’s hard for me to really say, because I’m not there, and I don’t know how everybody is taking it right now. But for me, no, it’s no shadow on me. I still think Tom is a great quarterback regardless of what might be coming out in the media. I guess we’ll see what comes out in the next couple weeks, but there is no damper for me.
THE MMQB: When the news first broke the morning after the AFC Championship Game that the NFL was investigating the possibility that the Patriots had deflated game balls, what was your reaction?
VEREEN: I was shocked. I had no idea that was going on. I just catch it when he throws it to me. And when he hands it to me, I just grab it and run. I had no awareness of it—I couldn’t tell. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t feel any difference [in the footballs]. I guess we’ll see what happens in the future.
THE MMQB: You watched Brady preparing for a Super Bowl after these allegations first came out. How have you seen him handling it?
VEREEN: I see him handling it in stride. It’s hard to rattle that man. I’ve seen him in a lot of stressful situations on the field, and he handles it with class and with poise. I think that’s exactly how he’ll handle this.
THE MMQB: What was your reaction to the penalties levied by the NFL—a four-game suspension for Brady, a $1 million fine and the loss of draft picks?
VEREEN: That’s the league. They’re coming down harsh on him, but we’ll see. There’s still a long way to go with the investigation and the appeal.
THE MMQB: You’ll play your former team this season, and I’m not sure if you know this, but the last two times the Giants and the Patriots have played in the regular season, the Giants have gone on to win the Super Bowl.
VEREEN: Really? I had no idea of that. I guess we’ll see when it comes. I’m going to be excited for that game. I know they will be, too. Playing against your old family, it will be fun. I was really close with all those guys on the team, but that’s just because we were a close-knit group. I feel the same way around here, or I’m sure that I will feel the same way. I’m already starting to feel that. I feel really welcome here.
THE MMQB: Right after you signed with the Giants, you drew a lot of attention when you told the team’s website, “This is not a step down. If anything, it’s a step up.” You later clarified on Twitter that signing a $12 million free-agent contract, and everything that goes with it, is the step up. How big of a deal is it for players to get to that second contract?
VEREEN: It was so exciting for me. I was just beyond myself. It was such a blessing for me and my family. And it was a step up—to a new contract and new responsibilities. I’m looked at more now on this team and expected to be a leader and that’s good. I’m ready to step into that type of role, but first, I’ve been trying to learn. You have to follow before you can lead. I’m trying to learn the workings of everything around here and make sure I know what I’m doing first before I can spread the wings and help everybody else out.
THE MMQB: How do you see yourself, Jennings and Williams fitting in together in the backfield?
VEREEN: I think we are going to complement each other well. They are both very talented backs. We’ve got a stable of very talented backs. Not just them, but [Orleans] Darkwa and the rookies coming up as well, and running behind Hyno [fullback Henry Hynoski]. We’ll be a pretty fun group to watch.
THE MMQB: Perhaps the run game is coming back into vogue?
VEREEN: I sure hope so. I know it’s important. I know you need it to win. It’s a lot more important than it gets focused on. You need the run game in order to be a successful team, especially in the long run. You might be able to get away without it for a couple games, but in the long run, you really have to be able to run the ball well to move the chains and be successful.
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