FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — This is all you need to know about the state of the New England Patriots’ running game: Montee Ball was signed to the practice squad Tuesday and Steven Jackson reportedly came in for a meeting Wednesday.

Neither has played in the NFL this season.

Yet before this season ends, one or both of them could have an impact on New England’s offense.

The Patriots’ running game has been ineffective for most of the season – ranked 27th at just 90.6 yards per game – and leading rusher LeGarrette Blount has been placed on injured reserve after he suffered a left hip injury Sunday in a 27-6 victory at Houston.

The Patriots may remain a pass-first offense – only once in the Tom Brady era have the Patriots run the ball more than pass it in a season (524 rushes, 485 pass attempts in 2004) – but they still need a semblance of a running game to keep defenses from teeing off with their pass rush. Blount was leading the team with 703 rushing yards.

So who steps up?

Considering Brandon Bolden and James White are the only two healthy running backs remaining on the 53-man roster, you’ve got to figure it’s going to be one of them.

And the 5-foot-11, 220-pound Bolden appears to be the one most suited to be the every-down back. While he hasn’t carried the ball much for the Patriots in his four years – just 174 carries for 744 yards – he knows the system better than White, who is considered more of a third-down back. And he always runs hard, something that always separated him from other backs.

Asked if he can become the No. 1 back – a role he hasn’t had since his college days at Mississippi – Bolden was emphatic in his answer: “If need be, I believe I’m ready.”

Coach Bill Belichick has confidence in him, but even he admits he’s got to weigh Bolden’s contributions on offense and special teams, where he is one of the Patriots’ core players.

“Look, he’s been a four-down player for us, so he’s played the role of a big back, he’s played the role of a sub back and he’s played well for us in the kicking game on fourth down,” said Belichick. “I think it would be hard to increase each role. It’s possible, but I think it would be hard realistically to do that, but maybe that needs to be done. I don’t know, we’ll see. Or maybe you just increase one or decrease another. I think we’re going to have to figure that out.”

Bolden, 25, said it’s been difficult to watch injuries pile up. Dion Lewis was lost for the season to a knee injury Nov. 8.

“You see one brother go down and then you see another brother go down,” he said. “You’re like … this is a real gut-wrenching feeling. You don’t want to see it happen to anybody but then when it happens to one of your teammates, one of the guys in your room, it kind of hits you in a special place.”

He finds it hard to believe he’s now the most experienced running back on the team. White, who has a locker next to Bolden, calls him the “big brother” of the running backs.

“James said, ‘You’ve just been around, you know what mom and dad expect,’ ” said Bolden. “And that’s kind of what it is, helping Montee when he comes in and even when LeGarrette first came here and then came back. It was like, ‘We’ve got to get everybody caught up on this train.’ And that’s what we’re doing now, we’re preparing to get ready for this game.”

The Patriots play the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium at 1 p.m. Sunday and could clinch a first-round playoff bye with a win and a little help.

Bolden said it helps to have Brady at quarterback. “That’s who everybody leans on,” said Bolden. “I lean on Tom and I’ve been here for four years. He’s just a great teacher, a great role model and a great leader.”

The Patriots have seldom relied on a strong running game. Only three times since Brady took over as the starter in 2001 have they run more than 500 times in a season: 2004 (524), 2008 (513 – when Matt Cassel took over after Brady’s knee injury) and 2012 (523).

During that time the Patriots have had four 1,000-yard runners: Antowain Smith (2001, 1,157 yards), Corey Dillon (2004, 1,635), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2010, 1,008) and Stevan Ridley (2012, 1,263).

And their reliance on the run has lessened. Brady has thrown over 600 passes each of the last four years. This year he’s on pace to throw 662 passes. The Patriots are on pace to run just 379 times, which would be a low under Belichick.

But they still need to run, and they still need a lead back. Bolden could be that player.

“He’s a dependable guy,” said Josh McDaniels, New England’s offensive coordinator. “We trust him to blitz pickup. We trust him to be in the game in those critical situations when you get a lot of different looks from the defense.”

And he believes Bolden is ready for a bigger role.

“I think we have a lot of guys in our locker room that are ready if their number’s called, and are ready if something should happen and they’re called to duty,” said McDaniels. “Brandon is definitely one of them.”