With Faulk battered, Pats add Zereoue to backfield

Updated: September 29, 2005, 9:13 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

With reserve tailback Kevin Faulk officially ruled "out" for Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers, and likely to be sidelined several weeks by a foot injury, the New England Patriots on Wednesday signed veteran free agent Amos Zereoue.

Typical of the Patriots, there were no details released of the Faulk injury, but sources said that the seventh-year veteran could miss six to eight weeks. Faulk was injured in last weekend's victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

New England released wide receiver Andre' Davis, acquired before the start of the season for a fifth-round draft choice, to create a roster spot for Zereoue.

The Patriots went into the season with only three running backs -- Corey Dillon, Faulk and Patrick Pass -- on the roster. Losing Faulk for an extended period leaves the position vulnerable and also leaves the offense without a key performer. The Pats did have one running back, Kory Chapman, on their practice squad at the outset of the season, but Indianapolis signed him last week to help bolster a backfield weakened by injuries.

In Zereoue, the Patriots are getting a back with the same kind of diverse skills that Faulk possesses. The six-year veteran was one of two free agent tailbacks who auditioned for New England coaches and personnel officials on Tuesday -- former Dallas backup Erik Bickerstaff was the other -- and he was kept overnight and then signed on Wednesday. It is believed his one-year contract is for the league minimum base salary.

Zereoue, 28, played with the Oakland Raiders in 2004, starting in six of 15 appearances, and rushed for 425 yards and three touchdowns on 112 carries. He also had 39 catches for 284 yards. He has returned kickoffs, as well, during his career.

It is that kind of versatility the Patriots are trying to replace, at least in the short term, as Faulk rehabilitates from the leg injury.

While he doesn't garner as much acclaim as some of New England's offensive standouts, Faulk, 29, is an excellent third-down back and terrific complement to Dillon. He is a talented receiver out of the backfield, a nice change-of-pace runner, and a player who is difficult for linebackers to handle when he is operating in space.

In three games this season, Faulk has carried 14 times for 28 yards and caught 13 passes for 116 yards. For his career, the former LSU star, a second-round choice in the 1999 draft, has 570 rushes for 2,158 yards and 10 touchdowns, and 217 receptions for 1,935 yards and eight touchdowns in 86 appearances, including 21 starts.

Zereoue played most of his NFL career for the Pittsburgh Steelers before signing with Oakland as a free agent in 2004. His resume includes 546 carries for 2,123 yards and 10 touchdowns and 136 catches for 1,106 yards and one score.

The former West Virginia University star was not in an NFL training camp this summer.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.