Undrafted Bolden making most of opportunities with Patriots
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When Kevin Faulk officially announced his retirement on Tuesday, the Louisiana torch had already been passed in the New England Patriots’ backfield, specifically to another former LSU running back, Stevan Ridley.
That’s somewhat of a surprise, but perhaps nothing is more stunning this NFL season than the emergence of Brandon Bolden, grandson of former Southern University and Kansas City Chiefs great Frank Pitts.
Bolden is an undrafted rookie from Baton Rouge, a graduate of Scotlandville High, who had a tremendous career at Ole Miss. He signed as a free agent in May and then basically stayed under the radar until two weeks ago when he exploded for 137 yards and a touchdown in a victory over Buffalo.
“It’s the NFL. A guy can go down. You never know what can happen,” said Bolden, who is quickly noticeable because of his long, braided hair. “Everybody has to be on point.”
Accordingly, he carried the ball a total of seven times in New England’s first three games, but got the ball 16 times against the Bills as he and Ridley (22 carries for 106 yards and two TDs) became New England’s first double 100-yard rushers in one game since 1980.
“They’re both really downhill runners that have very good vision. I think the thing (Patriots) coach (Bill) Belichick said even in the last couple days is their ability to make yards after contact,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said.
On Sunday, Bolden gained 54 more yards on 14 carries in another victory over Denver.
“Brandon, since he came here, has really done a nice job of keeping his head down, staying focused on learning our system, doing everything that’s asked of him,” New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “I won’t comment on all the things he does in the kicking game, but I know he’s an unselfish player who has done anything we’ve asked him to do in terms of contribution offensively or on special teams.
“I think that’s ultimately a great sign for a young player. He gets in, and any way he can help the team, he’s willing to do it. I think Brandon’s attitude has been great. He’s shown the ability to learn different things each week. I think he’s practiced well and hard. I think all of those things combined give him confidence and then give us confidence as coaches that he can go in there and contribute and help us win games. He earned the opportunity that he was given the last couple weeks.”
That isn’t lost on Ridley, who was well aware of Bolden when he joined the Patriots.
“Every time LSU played Ole Miss, it was the Louisiana kid who went to Mississippi and the Mississippi kid who went to Louisiana,” Ridley said.
“We both wore number 34, he got on the field a little earlier in his career than I did and played as a freshman. My junior year, when I had the season I did, we were competing and trying to lead the SEC that year, along with Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. There was a group of running backs that were battling it out.”
Bolden, 5-foot-11, 220 pounds, said when he visited Ole Miss, it just felt like the right fit, spurning offers from, among others, Tulane. He left Ole Miss second all-time in TDs scored (33), third in all-purpose yards (3,681) and fourth in rushing yards (2,504). Early in his senior year, he was hampered by a slight break in his ankle.
Last spring, Bolden was pretty sure he wouldn’t be drafted, especially not after being picked the first two days. The third day, his son, Bryson, turned 1, “so I didn’t even watch it,” Bolden said.
So when he got a chance to sign with the Patriots, he couldn’t pass it up.
“I just wanted to play football,” Bolden said.
“Bolden didn’t surprise me,” Ridley said. “I knew what he could do. I told him that playing in the SEC prepares you and prepares you for here. There was nothing we hadn’t seen.
“I believe in the SEC you have as big and strong and fast athletes as you have anywhere. So for us, it was just getting up here and learning the offense and being sound in our assignments. I just told Bolden to stick with it and wait on your opportunity, wait on your opportunity and whether it’s on special teams or getting in on the offense, he’s maxing it out.”
To say the least.
“I’m happy for him. Free agent or first-rounder, it doesn’t matter,” Ridley said. “He’s here, he’s in the league and he’s making an impact. As a teammate, what more could you ask for?”