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Volin: Which Running Backs Will Emerge From Crowded Patriots Backfield?

BOSTON (CBS) - Head coach Bill Belichick cancelled the final mini camp practice scheduled for today, so that means Patriots players will be off for the summer until the first day of training camp (date TBA).

Ben Volin of the Boston Globe has been covering the Super Bowl champions extensively this spring, so 98.5 The Sports Hub's Toucher & Rich had him on Thursday morning to hear his observations from practice.

It's hard to get an assessment of the offensive and defensive lines due to limited contact and the absence of full-padded practices, and the quarterback situation with the addition of Matt Flynn has been well documented.

As far as roster spots are concerned, the positional group with the most competition right now might be the running backs. It should be interesting to see which backs emerge from the pack come training camp.

"LeGarrette Blount certainly has the leg up for the primary first down power back. He clearly has an edge over Jonas Gray and anyone else. Besides Blount, it's kind of a hodge podge of guys who don't have experience. [Offensive coordinator] Josh McDaniels thinks that's okay, because he doesn't mind having a little competition," Volin said.

For Volin, what he's most looking out for is the back that steps up to replace Shane Vereen, now a member of the New York Giants.

"Vereen did a lot for this offense; not only catching the ball. He had a phenomenal Super Bowl, showing great hands. He's just a really smart player. Vereen knew all the pass protections and all the audibles. There's a lot [mentally] that goes into that role. Right now it looks like a battle between Travaris Cadet and James White, and I think Cadet probably has the leg up," Volin said.

"[Cadet] has more experience in the NFL. He caught 38 passes in the Saints system and is really an explosive runner. James White is coming into his second year, so we'll see what he can do in training camp," Volin added. "[White] redshirted last year after having a productive career at Wisconsin, so maybe he wasn't picking up the offense as quickly as he could have been."

During last year's training camp, the Patriots claimed running back Tyler Gaffney off waivers from the Carolina Panthers. Gaffney was taken in the sixth round (204th overall) out of Stanford by Carolina in the 2014 NFL Draft.

After a knee injury in training camp, the Panthers were hoping to place Gaffney on injured reserve and sneak him through waivers, but the Patriots said not so fast.

"Tyler Gaffney is an intriguing name. He's kind of an all-around back that could really surprise people and have a good impact here. I love Jonas Gray. He was a phenomenal story last year. He's a really physical, 240-pound back. But there is going to be a numbers crunch once Blount gets back from that one-game suspension, and I do wonder if there will be a spot for Jonas Gray on this team."

And lastly, in terms of housekeeping issues, 2015 first round draft pick Malcom Brown (32nd overall) is still unsigned. Volin expects the Patriots to ink Brown to a deal before Belichick leaves for vacation, which could come as early as today.

Listen below for the full discussion:

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