Giovani Bernard isn't the only running back dabbling as a wide receiver this offseason. Shane Vereen, of the New England Patriots, also lined up wide at times during spring practice, according to the team's official website.
Vereen's three-touchdown performance in last season's playoff win over the Houston Texans provided a glimpse of his potential as a receiver. After lining up wide for a 25-yard reception early in the game, Vereen hauled in a 33-yard touchdown over mismatched linebacker Barrett Ruud in the fourth quarter.
Vereen entered the NFL as a polished route runner after playing in Jeff Tedford's pro-style offense at the University of California, Berkeley. If defenses are willing to use a linebacker in coverage, the Patriots will exploit the matchup by isolating Vereen in space. It's similar to the way former tight end Aaron Hernandez was used to force defenses to declare their intentions prior to the snap.
The difference between Vereen and underwhelming tight-end options such as Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui is playmaking ability. Including the playoffs, Vereen averaged a gaudy 6.4 yards per touch while finding the end zone seven times on just 88 touches last season.
Depending on the condition of Rob Gronkowski's surgically repaired back, the Patriots could enter Week 1 without 90 percent of the receptions and 80 percent of the receiving touchdowns from last season. Don't be surprised if Vereen finishes behind only Gronkowski and Danny Amendola in the passing-game pecking order.
Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.