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Fear-Less: Patriots Looking to New Running Backs Coach

With the retirement of long time running backs coach Ivan Fears, the New England Patriots apparently have looked to a familiar face to keep the team’s runners moving in the right direction.

The New England Patriots offensive coaching staff has a bit of a different look in 2022.

With former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels taking his talents [along with several assistants] to the Nevada desert, the Pats offense will have some new faces calling the shots for the first time since 2012.

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However, the Pats have found themselves in search of more than just a new ‘OC.’

Since January, longtime Patriots’ running backs coach Ivan Fears has been rumored to be calling it a career after 31 seasons as an NFL assistant coach. While a formal announcement has yet to be made by Fears, or the team, his conspicuous absence from offseason workouts and rookie minicamp has all but been confirmed.

While much of the Patriots offensive output has been criticized by fans and media alike, their running backs performed well in 2021. Under Fears’ direction, New England ranked eighth with 124.4 rushing yards per game led by Damien Harris and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson. The duo is again expected to be a key component in the Patriots offensive game planning for the upcoming seasons. Undoubtedly, Fears’ experience and coaching acumen played a major role in the unit’s success on the field last season.

With Fears riding off into the sunset, who will be the next coach up?

By all accounts it's Vinnie Sunseri, who assisted Fears in 2021 and looks to be the heir-apparent to coach the Pats rushers in 2022.

And, for those who are wondering if the Pats young assistant is up to the challenge, it is clear that Fears has prepared him well.

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"Nothing has changed. I'm doing exactly what I did last year, working with the running backs," Sunseri told reporters via video conference on Tuesday. Much like his predecessor, Sunseri remains focused on the task at hand, without distraction.

The 28-year-old began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, the University of Alabama, under known Belichick-associate, Nick Saban. Sunseri coached alongside his brother, Tino, who also was a graduate assistant and his father, Sal, who is the Crimson Tide’s linebackers coach. In 2020 he was hired by the New England Patriots in a support staff role. In 2021, Sunseri was named an assistant running backs coach; shadowing Fears while developing solid relationships with Harris, Stevenson, veteran Brandon Bolden and second-year back J.J. Taylor.

Sunseri also had a brief playing stint with the Patriots, as well. He spent training camp with New England in 2016 and was later signed to their practice squad. In October of 2016, Sunseri was released by the Patriots and signed to the 49ers practice squad in November. Shortly after, he was promoted to San Francisco's active roster, playing in six games and registering four defensive tackles.

Patriots Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, offensive assistant Joe Judge
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As the Patriots continue their offseason workout program, Sunseri is eager to hit the field with the team’s running backs. With OTA, minicamp and training camp still ahead, the Pats coach realizes that this time is vital to the development of a promising unit which includes capable veterans and promising young rookies.

“That’s what this time is all about….teaching, strength and conditioning,” Sunseri said. “We have an exciting group and it’s great to work with these guys.”

Sunseri may have miles to go in order to fill Fears’ shoes. However, in true Patriots fashion, he will take it one step at a time…and it is looking good so far.