Stevan Ridley taking lead in battle for starting running back role
|08.03.12 at 8:28 pm ET|
FOXBORO — With the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis to Cincinnati via free agency, the Patriots entered training camp with a group of young, largely unproven backs each looking to take the helm as the new feature back for the offense. But in the early showings of camp, it appears that second-year back Stevan Ridley is outpacing fellow sophomore Shane Vereen and presumptive third down back Danny Woodhead for the starting job.
The 23-year-old Ridley enters camp as the team’s top returning rusher after finishing his 2011 regular season with 87 carries for 441 yards and one score. However, the focal points of Ridley’s rookie season heading into camp remain his two fumbles he recorded late last year: one in the season finale against Buffalo and another in the Patriots playoff victory against Denver. It was the second fumble that effectively ended Ridley’s season, as he remained inactive for the rest of the Patriots’ post season run, apparently losing the coaching staff’s confidence to hold onto the ball
“I’m not a coach. I’m just a player and I went out there and played the best I could,” Ridley said of his ball-handling after practice Friday. “Unfortunately, as a running back, you can never have the ball on the ground and that’s something that I know and that’s been since Pee Wee football.
“I have to put that behind me and focus on what’s ahead of me. That’s the future and that’s me holding onto the football. So I’m just going to go out there every day and run hard, tuck the ball and keep it high and tight and be the best that I can so I don’t repeat any mistakes.”
With his size, the 5-foot-11, 225 pound Ridley is the obvious candidate to handle the bulk of the running between the tackles, particularly as a short-yardage back, a role he’s ready to take up, but not as his sole identity in the offense.
“If coach calls on me to do that, that’s what I’ll do,” Ridley said. “I’m going out there to work hard every day to be short-yardage, long-yardage, first, second, third down, whatever they want me to do. I’m just going out there and do the best I can do for my team. If that’s my role, then that’s my role and I will do it to the best of my abilities.”
Despite the Patriots’ tendency to run mostly spread last season, it looks like the power running game could have more of a presence in the team’s offense this year as the team enters camp with two fullbacks on the 90-man roster: Tony Fiammetta and Spencer Larsen.
“They’ve been effective before for their respective teams. We’ve had fullbacks in our offense we’ve gone [without] fullbacks in our offense,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said before practice on Friday.
“It goes to … depth on the roster and being able to do multiple things in multiple facets of the game, whether it is in the kicking game or offensively and defensively. Both of those guys are both good football players in their respective roles and we’ll see how they do once we get in a game situation and how they perform in this offense.”
While Ridley appears to be the prime candidate for the starting running back job, he will likely cede pass-heavy packages and third down duties to Vereen, who’s projected to excel in the role, and Woodhead, who record 34 catches for 379 yards last season out of the backfield. After finishing 2011 with just three receptions for 13 yards, Ridley hasn’t appeared to expand upon his role much in the passing game in favor of his cohorts, who have handled much of the receiving duties – particularly in the screen game – so far in camp.
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