Shane Vereen hasn’t been flagged for a single penalty since he arrived in the NFL in 2011. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBORO — In a year where penalty flags have been thrown at a record rate, Shane Vereen is one of the lucky ones.
The Patriots running back is one of four regulars on this year’s New England roster who has yet to be penalized. Vereen, Vince Wilfork, Devin McCourty and Chris Jones are the four players on the 2014 team who have played at least 475 snaps this season without being hit with a penalty.
But Vereen has taken that streak to the next level. The 2011 draft pick has yet to be flagged as a professional. That’s three-plus seasons in the league without a single penalty — per Pro Football Focus, 1,020 snaps as a professional without a flag.
Informed after practice on Thursday that he had yet to be penalized as a professional, Vereen was taken aback.
“Shoot,” he said with a smile. “That’s crazy. Really?
“I don’t know. It’s interesting,” he said after a second. “I really don’t think about it. I just play and do the best I can. I really don’t think of penalties.
“Now you have me thinking I need to go get one. Get my rep up a little bit.”
Historically, running backs are some of the least penalized players on the team, because they simply have fewer chances to be flagged. (By way of comparison, in the same stretch, fellow running back Stevan Ridley — who arrived as part of the same draft class as Vereen — has only two penalties as a pro.) For a pass-catcher like Vereen, however, there’s always the possibility of him getting hit with an offensive pass interference call. In addition, his work in blitz pickup (holding) could also leave him susceptible.
Vereen said he’d “definitely been flagged in college” a few times when he was at Cal for offsides and holding, but was still amazed that he hadn’t been hit with a penalty since he arrived in the league in 2011.
“I guess technique is the best explanation,” when asked about the secret to his success. “We practice good technique. A lot of times, the stuff I’d probably get called for probably doesn’t get called too often. It has to be pretty blatant and out in the open, so as a running back, you’re able to get away with some of that sort of stuff. Really, the biggest thing is just practicing good technique and putting your hands in the right places so you don’t get called.”
Vereen is also making statistical waves in other areas as well. He’s currently only one of six running backs in the league who can boast of at least 85 carries and 45 catches, part of a group that includes high-profile backs like DeMarco Murray of Dallas, Matt Forte of Chicago, Le’Veon Bell of Pittsburgh, Fred Jackson of Buffalo and Andre Ellington of Arizona.
If he gets to the 50-catch/50-carry mark, he’d be the first New England running back to do it since Kevin Faulk had 83 carries and 58 catches in 2008. Only four running backs in franchise history have ever hit the 50-50 plateau — Faulk (2000 and 2008), Dave Meggett (1995), Leroy Thompson (1994) and Tony Collins (1985 and 1986).
Vereen said Thursday he takes pride in his work as a pass catcher.
“It’s huge. It’s huge. It means a lot to me,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in being able to do three things — running, catching and pass blocking. I take a huge amount of pride in all three, and the fact that they look to me to be able to make a play and make the offense go.”