|Is Stevan Ridley the Kevin Faulk in-waiting? The answer lies in ‘backyard football’||08.05.11 at 7:01 pm ET|
FOXBORO — At first glance, the comparisons between Kevin Faulk and Stevan Ridley appear obvious. Both running backs hail from Louisiana State and were stars for the SEC powerhouse. And both backs – despite being south of six feet tall – are powerful runners in their own style.
But that’s where the comparisons end – for now.
Faulk is entering the 13th year of his NFL career – all with the Patriots – while Ridley is trying to make a name for himself as a north-south runner in his rookie camp. Ridley needs to work on his pass-catching game and his pass-blocking while Faulk is considered one of the best in the league at picking up a blitz, shedding a blocker and opening up quickly as a safety valve for Tom Brady.
While his fellow rookie back Shane Vereen left with an apparent leg injury last weekend, Ridley is already showing glimpses in camp that he can make NFL tacklers miss. Ridley ran off left tackle Friday afternoon before cutting back sharply and heading up field in the guard-tackle gap, a north-south move he was known for with the Tigers.
In addition to watching Faulk on the field, Ridley can learn a lot by listening to how Brady raves about Faulk, who was lost to a torn right ACL in Week 2 last year against the Jets.
“Kevin is an incredible player, person, teammate, friend,” Brady said on Friday. “He’s one of the greatest running backs I’ve ever played with. He’s everything you look for in a player, so to get him back is huge for this team. His leadership ability, his work ethic – he wants to be out here.
“He worked so hard to come back from his knee injury, which certainly is not an easy thing to. It’s a tough injury. He works harder than anybody. It will be fun when he gets out here playing with us. I know he’s bored as can be, sitting in there, not being able to do what he really wants to be able do.”
Ridley – at 5-feet-11 and 225 pounds – ran for over 1100 yards and scored 15 TD’s during his final season last year with the Bayou Bengals. Faulk has 16 rushing touchdowns, 15 receiving, and two scores on kickoff returns in his career with the Pats.
“I try not to think about it,” Ridley said this week. “I just like to go out there and play ‘backyard football’ and just do what I do best, and that’s go out there be a football player. But once you get to this level, you have to take in the knowledge and you have to study and put in the extra hours and that’s what I’m trying to do, and learn from those guys who’ve been in here 12 and 13 years. They’ve been in here for a reason because they do those things well. I’m going to learn from the leaders I have in my room and try to get a little from the running backs also.”
Faulk made it known early on in this camp that he likes Ridley, and he has well before the Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick drafted him out of LSU in the third round last April with their fourth overall pick.
“Of course I have,” Faulk said when asked if he has a connection with Ridley thru their common alma mater. “[He’s a] very smart player. He learns quickly and that’s what Bill loves about him. That’s what the coaching staff loves about him – how smart he was, and how he picked up on things when they actually went out to see him.”
Ridley played the humility card perfectly when asked what he thinks he can contribute with these Patriots.
“I’ve got a lot to learn,” he said. “Those are guys that have been in the NFL 12 and 13 years and any information I can pick up from them is a lot. It’s my first year in here. I haven’t played a down of NFL football so I can’t speak on what that’s like. I’m just coming out here, being a rookie and giving it my all.
“We watch film every day, all day. We’re spending some serious hours in that film room and that’s what we have to do to come out here and prepare to be our best on the field.”
One thing’s for sure, his coaches at LSU think he can be an impact player right away.
““We put Stevan in, and two plays later, he scores,” former LSU running backs coach Larry Porter told WEEI.com’s Chris Price when speaking of Ridley. “Normally, over the course of the week, you don’t get many reps as a backup. But for him to come in totally focused and go in and not miss a beat, that was really a tribute to him and his hard work and him seizing control of an opportunity.”
In 2010, as a junior, Ridley won the starting job and had an amazing season, finishing with 1,147 yards on 249 carries with 15 touchdowns. The 1,147 yards rank as seventh-highest season total in school history, while his 15 rushing touchdowns match Faulk for the fourth-best mark for a season in LSU history. As a result, he was named First Team All-SEC by the coaches.
“They have always kind of rotated that backs through there at LSU, [but] he’s been a very proactive guy both in the running game and in the passing game,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick shortly after New England chose Ridley. “He’s a bigger, physical back, good running style, gets a lot of tough yards.”
Sounds a lot like Faulk already.
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