By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
In one very specific way, it was like Brandon Bolden never left.
The veteran running back departed for the Dolphins in 2018, but the Patriots kept his place at the table. In this case the place is Bolden's locker. Throughout the season it housed his eye-catching boombox, a retro-styled Bumpboxx Freestyle V3S that for years provided the soundtrack to the locker room.
Bolden left the boombox behind, mainly so he wouldn't have to travel with it everywhere. If you saw it in person you wouldn't blame him. James White kept a close eye on the Bumpboxx while Bolden played in Miami, but seldom used it. Now that Bolden is back for a second stint with the Patriots as a core special teamer and depth running back, blasting hip-hop classics is once again an every-morning occurrence.
The first song Bolden played within 15 minutes of returning to his old locker? Mase's "Welcome Back".
It's clear how respected Bolden was in the Patriots locker room. He left as one of the most well-liked figures in there, and 28 of those same teammates remain from 2017.
"That’s my guy, man," said James White upon reporting for training camp in July. "[Bolden] works extremely hard. He may not get as many reps on offense, but on special teams he makes a huge difference. When he does get in on offense, he makes big plays as well."
Bolden may have a built-in respect here. But that doesn't mean he feels he can step back in and have his leadership role handed back to him. He's earned the respect of his teammates from two years ago, but what about the 61 others still vying for roster spots?
This may be his second stint in New England, but Bolden is treating it like his first.
"Coming back in, I’m pretty much a new guy, so I’m looking at it as something I've got to re-learn," Bolden said after practice on Monday. Everybody already speaks kind of highly of me, but still I’ve got something to prove because I wasn’t here last year. So I’m back to the same thing."
He's quickly proven himself to younger players meeting him as a teammate for the first time, like second-year running back Sony Michel. For him, Bolden has come as advertised.
"He’s continued to be a leader, a big brother, a guy you can lean on and a good friend," Michel said last week after a joint practice with the Lions.
As a running back, Bolden remains a reserve piece. But he would certainly be a better option than, say, throwing a receiver in to run the ball like the Patriots were forced to do with Cordarrelle Patterson for two games last season.
Bolden reinstalls that valuable running back depth and special teams prowess that made him a roster mainstay from 2012-17. He may have the work ethic of a new guy trying to earn his keep all over again, but there's more than enough residual respect to make him feel more welcome than your typical new face.
For a Patriots team that showed cracks in the armor both on special teams and in running back depth, Bolden can easily prove he's more than just a familiar face. But before he got to prove himself, he dusted off that boombox.
"Locker's still the same, locker-mates are still the same," Bolden said. "It's nice being back."
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].