I think signing Vitale gives us the indication that Belichick will be relying on his run game to keep the offense flowing.
I think it's fair to say Sony Michel's sophomore year was very underwhelming compared to his rookie season, and heading into the new league year, and Tom Brady ready to finish his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Patriots offense will be relying heavily upon Michel to have a bounce back season, and lead the Patriots offense, whether it's Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer, or a rookie starting under center for New England this year.
After the 2018 season when Sony Michel basically carried the Patriots offense on his back, I had a lot of expectations for Michel going into year two, In fact I had a lot of expectations for the Patriots running game as a whole.
It didn't matter who the Patriots were trotting out at receiver; N'Keal Harry, Josh Gordon, Maurice Harris, Demaryius Thomas, Jakobi Meyers, and Antonio Brown. They were all going to benefit from the Patriots heavy run attack, at least that's the way I thought it was going to happen. Unfortunately, I never took Rob Gronkowski's retirement into consideration, and the offensive line and fullback injuries. By the end of the season the Patriots had added Mohamed Sanu to the Patriots receiving core, and it didn't make the passing game any better. The issue is, Michel and the rest of the running game never came close to replicating what we saw in 2018.
I think this goes without saying, but, Sony Michel need to take positive steps forward this season of the Patriots have any chance of being a competitive team in 2020.
"Last season was a disaster for Sony Michel. After an impressive rookie season that ended with Michel being a major reason New England won the Super Bowl, He took a step back. Michel did put up similar numbers to his rookie season but one stat shows why it was so disappointing. Anyone with eyes saw how Michel continued to get stuffed at the line. He rarely broke off for big gains and more routinely was only gaining a yard or two. Michel averaged less than 4 yards a carry. It’s hard to move the ball when your runningback is putting up those numbers. This season we will see Michel get the ball more. The Patriots offense will be much more balanced. The days of throwing the ball 60-70 percent of the time are long gone. Expect Michel to carry the ball 20 times a game at the minimum. If Michel is getting stuck at the line again the Patriots offense will be in trouble. You could even see Rex Burkhead take over the starting job. So in 2020, we need to see a much improved Sony Michel running the ball." - Sam Minton, Musket Fire
What disappointed me the most in 2019 was Michel's inability to shake off a tackle. It seemed like every time he had the ball in his hand he was stopped at initial contact. Though it's not rare for a player to regress a bit in his second season, missing James Develin, Rob Gronkowski, and Dwayne Allen, also may have exposed Michel, showing that he may not be an every down back. He struggled mightily in the power game, and you can't really say that his passing game improved, but Michel has to look at how this offseason has transpired and realize how much pressure is going to be on him this year.
Bill Belichick hasn't found a tight end yet, but he has started making moves to get the running game going, including franchise tagging Joe Thuney, and signing free agent fullback Dan Vitale.
"Dan Vitale was acquired by the New England Patriots last week as the organization continues to remodel and reshuffle. In acquiring Vitale, they found a competitor and potential replacement for James Develin. If New England plans to use Vitale in the same way, then the new fullback will have a huge part in the Patriots offense. How does Vitale fit into this offense? Historically, the Patriots have used Develin for short-yardage situations and as a blocker. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Vitale could be used in the same way, if he beats out Develin in the coming months. At the very least, Vitale could help boost the running game. Sony Michel struggled at times last year, likely in large part because of Develin’s injury. With a new quarterback under center next fall, the New England Patriots may choose to run the ball quite a bit. That would emphasize the starting fullback’s role even more." - Danny Jaillet, Patriots Wire
I know in a season that Patriots fans were waiting for Belichick to sign wide receivers and tight ends, signing a fullback probably made you throw your hands in the air, but I think signing Vitale gives us the indication that Belichick will be relying on his run game to keep the offense flowing.
With Tom Brady gone, the Patriots aren't just losing the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. They're losing his leadership and his ability to read a defense and change the plays at the line as well as Brady did it. Because of this, it's going to put pressure on some of the veterans to perform in less than ideal situations. James White is one of those guys who are really going to have to step up for his quarterback.
"Last season we saw James White continue to be a dual threat in the New England Patriots offense. This season he will have to take things to the next level. Along with Julian Edelman, White was one of the Patriots best options when throwing the ball. Last season he had over 70 receptions for 645 yards and 5 touchdowns. The problem for White and the Patriots was that he struggled on the ground. He saw a rather steep drop in carries and yards. New England isn’t expecting White to run for over 1,000 yards (if he does that would be amazing). If White manages to get at least 500 yards rushing that would put the Patriots in a good position. White will definitely be relied upon in the passing game. Whoever is the new quarterback can use White as a failsafe if he runs out of time in the pocket. When he gets open space, White can be extremely dangerous. If the Patriots offense is going to be successful they need White to be dangerous on the ground and in the air." - Sam Minton, Musket Fire
James White didn't have a bad 2019 by any stretch of the imagination, but with the Patriots lack of fire power on offense, White will probably be called upon a lot in 2020, and if the Patriots are going to be successful, James White is going to have to play like he did in 2018 when he ran the ball 94 times for 425 yards and five touchdowns. White also caught 72 passes for 645 yards, and five touchdowns. Double duvet scoring and 1000 all purpose yards will go a long way towards the Patriots having success, and it would take some pressure off of Sony Michel.
We still don't know if Rex Burkhead will still be on the team when the season starts, and we have no idea if Damien Harris will be effective in the NFL or not. So it's really starting to look like Sony Michel and James White will be the Patriots most important offensive player in 2020.