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Stevan Ridley ‘excited’ for chance to prove himself again 02.28.15 at 11:29 am ET
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Stevan Ridley suffered a season-ending knee injury in an October win over the Bills. (Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

Stevan Ridley suffered a season-ending knee injury in an October win over the Bills. (Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

Stevan Ridley knows he’s got an uphill climb ahead of him.

The Patriots running back, who missed the bulk of the 2014 season because of a knee injury he suffered in October in a win over the Bills in Buffalo, told Sirius XM Radio on Friday evening that he’s aware of the challenge that faces him as he heads into free agency, but he’s embracing the process.

“I’m excited about it,” Ridley said. “As a player coming into the league, you get there and your first contract you kind of have to establish yourself and see what you can do. Everybody is a good player if you get to make it to the NFL, but there is something to be said if you get to that second contract.

“Where I’ll be playing and who I’ll be playing for is still unknown,” he added. “But I know I’ve come in and done my job up to this point. Now, I have to put it in my agent’s hands to get me on another team, or stay where I’m at, and make sure I’m in pads playing ball somewhere next year. I know if you think about it too much, it will worry you sick.”

Ridley, who ran for 2,817 yards in four seasons with the Patriots — including 1,263 yards in 2012 — said he has no doubt he can become a productive player in the league again.

“I take it personal [when] anybody that says I can’t be a very productive player on whatever team I land on,” he said. “I’ve been playing ball my whole life, I’m going to come in and be a leader, and I’m going to be a guy that comes in and busts his butt in the weight room and busts his butt on the field. I’m a good teammate, I have fun with my guys, but when the lights come on Sundays, it’s all business and I plan on going out there and making plays.”

He also understands that he might not be playing in New England in 2015 for a few reasons, including the fact that the Patriots have several backs — including LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden and James White — already under contract for next season.

“Being in New England the last four years, four AFC Championships, two Super Bowl [appearances], that’s really hard to replace, to go to another team somewhere,” he said. “But going to another team could mean more opportunities, and could mean more carries, and could mean another team that doesn’t have the winning tradition that is up in New England and has been established there.

“For me, really I just want to be playing ball somewhere. That’s the big thing.

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Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah on Shane Vereen: ‘Oh man, he’s nasty’ 02.20.15 at 1:11 pm ET
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Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah raved about Shane Vereen at the NFL combine this week. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah raved about Shane Vereen at the NFL combine this week. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

With the Patriots potentially losing two running backs via free agency in Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, the team could be in the market for a running back in the draft.

One of those backs could be Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah. He ran for over 1,000 yards in his final three seasons at Nebraska, including 1,611 yards on 264 carries in his senior year. He also can catch passes out of the backfield if needed, as he finished his career at Nebraska with 73 receptions.

If the Patriots were to select Abdullah (would seemingly have to be with one of their top picks as he is projected to go in Rounds 2 or 3), he would be replacing Vereen — someone who Abdullah thinks is very talented.

“Oh man, he’€™s nasty. He’€™s nasty,” he told reporters at the NFL combine. “I watch a lot of his film to help myself out on route running. He runs the best option route, I feel like, in the NFL right now. He does a good job of stemming the linebackers, snapping them off, using his head to get some separation. Outstanding hands. A guy who’€™s going to be in the league a long time if he continues to do that.”€

As for a potential role in the NFL, Abdullah said he would do whatever is asked of him.

“I never like to put myself just in a role,” he said. “I like to be a guy who can play first down, second down, third down, but if a team drafts me and says, hey, this year, this is what we need you to do, yes sir, I’€™ll do that.”€

The one issue Abdullah has is fumbling. The 5-foot-9, 195-pounder fumbled 24 times and lost 17 of them during his four years as a Cornhusker, something that would not go over well in New England with how much Bill Belichick values ball security.

He sees this as easily correctable.

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Read More: 2015 NFL combine, Ameer Abdullah, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley
Free Agent Snapshot: Roy Helu at 12:22 pm ET
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Roy Helu will be a free agent for the first time of his career. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Roy Helu will be a free agent for the first time of his career. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’€™€™t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they’€™€™re players we think would be a good fit in New England. We already featured C.J. Spiller,  Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith, Rahim Moore, Charles Clay, Jerry Hughes, Pernell McPhee, Orlando Franklin and Dane Fletcher. Today we’ll feature Roy Helu.

Roy Helu
Position: Running back
Age: 26 (Dec. 7, 1988)
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 215 pounds

The skinny: The running back has spent his first four seasons in the league with the Redskins, but a change of scenery might do Helu a world of good. After his rookie season where he ran for 640 yards on 151 carries, and also caught 49 passes for 379 yards, he hasn’t done much in his last three years partly because he’s shared duties with Alfred Morris. In 2012 he only played in three games because of Achilles and turf toe injuries. Although he was placed on season-ending injured reserve, he did bounce back in his last two seasons to not let the injuries affect his durability. He played in 16 and 14 games the last two seasons respectively — although he wasn’t as productive as in his rookie season.

Over the past two seasons Helu has totaled 490 yards rushing and five touchdowns. He’s also caught 73 passes for 728 yards and two touchdowns. Helu’s strength is catching passes out of the backfield, something not many running backs can do. Helu has also played on special teams throughout his career, adding to his potential value.

By the numbers: 11.4 – Average yards per catch for Helu in 2014, a very impressive number for a running back.

Why it would work: With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen set to become free agents, the Patriots could potentially be in need of a running back, especially a veteran as they have LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, James White and Tyler Gaffney already on their roster, but besides Blount all will be entering either their first or second year in the league. Coach Bill Belichick always seems to find a veteran at each position at a low cost to bring in during training camp and see how things work out. With the three running backs currently on the roster all very young in age, bringing in a veteran as opposed to filling the need through the draft might be the better route to go. Also, with Helu’s experience on special teams and how much Belichick values that, it’s just another reason he could be appealing to the Patriots.

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Read More: 2015 Free Agent Snapshot, Alfred Morris, Roy Helu, Shane Vereen
Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Running back 02.10.15 at 9:00 am ET
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Shane Vereen led the Patriots in offensive touches for the 2014 regular season. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Shane Vereen led the Patriots in offensive touches for the 2014 regular season. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

With the Patriots done for the season, we’ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the Patriots stand. We kicked off the series with a look at the special teams and wide receivers. Now, it’s the running backs.

Depth chart: Shane Vereen (96 carries, 391 rushing yards, 2 TDs; 52 catches, 447 receiving yards, 3 TDs), Stevan Ridley (94 carries, 340 yards, 2 TDs), Jonas Gray (89 carries, 412 yards, 5 TDs), LeGarrette Blount (60 carries, 281 yards, 3 TDs), Brandon Bolden (28 carries, 89 yards, 1 TD), James White (9 carries, 38 yards), James Develin (3 carries, 5 yards)

Overview: The only thing constant is change, and that has pretty much been the case with the New England ground game over the last decade. Bill Belichick and the Patriots are big believers in the plug and play system, and while there are occasional misfires (like spending a first-round pick on Laurence Maroney in 2006), there are few high-level teams who get so much out of so many different backs. There’s a reason why Belichick has never had a single back go for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons while working as a head coach, dating all the way back to Cleveland.

In 2014, the Patriots became the first Super Bowl winner since the 1987 Redskins to have four different running backs finish with 40 carries or more in their championship season. Part of that was due to injury (Ridley would have likely been the lead back for the bulk of the season if he hadn’t gone with a season-ending knee injury in October) and part of it was personnel (Gray pretty much fell off the face of the earth after his alarm clock failed to go off and he overslept less than a week after landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated). But they were able to exhaust a number of different options in their pursuit of a steady and consistent ground attack.

Overall, the Patriots ran the ball just enough to keep opposing defenses honest (107.9 yards per game, 18th in the league) and keep the thought of play-action in the back of the minds of opposing defenses. That includes Vereen, an elite third-down option who was one of five running backs to finish the season with at least 50 catches and 50 carries, as well as Blount, who returned midway through the season after torches each of the bridges on the way out of Pittsburgh to average 4.4 yards per carry and six touchdowns down the stretch and into the postseason for New England.

Going forward, there will inevitably be more change — both Ridley and Vereen are set to hit the market as free agents. But even if one or both leave, the Patriots figure to utilize the old plug-and-play approach, as Blount, Bolden, Gray and White are all already under contract for 2015. In addition, Develin is an exclusive rights free agent, which means he’ll be back as well. And Tyler Gaffney, who was claimed off waivers last summer by the Patriots, spent the entire year on the shelf because of a knee injury — he rushed for an astounding 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior at Stanford in 2013. In the end, it should make for an interesting offseason in New England.

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Read More: Brandon Bolden, James Develin, James White, Jonas Gray
Even as he continues to rehab, Stevan Ridley remains close with teammates 01.28.15 at 5:09 pm ET
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A video posted by KiD-RiD (@stevanridley) on

CHANDLER, Ariz. — The Patriots have managed to make it all the way to Super Bowl XLIX without their lead back in Stevan Ridley. But even though the LSU product — who went down with a season-ending knee injury in October — hasn’t been in the lineup, his teammates say he’s been a presence around the franchise as he continues his rehab. (He posted the above video on Instagram on Tuesday.)

“We know he’s with us. We know he’s supporting us all the time. A lot of things we do are in honor of him,” said teammate Shane Vereen. “We do things for each other, and I think that’s the bottom line. We do things for each other, whether they’re still with us or watching from a distance.”

“His rehab has been a little different, so he hasn’t been around as much as Jerod [Mayo],” added Vereen. “But when he is around, he’s giving us advice. He’s cheering us on. Telling us what he sees. Mainly, the biggest thing for him to us is encouragement. He reminds us every Sunday why we’re out there and what we’re fighting for and that he’s there with us.”

Read More: Stevan Ridley, Super Bowl XLIX,
Stevan Ridley is up and around just 15 days after surgery 12.03.14 at 2:37 pm ET
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A video posted by KiD-RiD (@stevanridley) on

Stevan Ridley recently underwent knee surgery after a season-ending injury in an October loss to Buffalo, but it looks like the running back is up and around. He posted this video to Instagram on Wednesday afternoon.

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5 thoughts on return of LeGarrette Blount, state of Patriots running game 11.21.14 at 12:12 am ET
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LeGarrette Blount has returned to Foxboro. What sort of role can he have with the 2014 Patriots? (Getty Images)

LeGarrette Blount has returned to Foxboro. What sort of role can he have with the 2014 Patriots? (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

1. In stark contrast to the nasty words that were coming out of the Pittsburgh locker room in the wake of what happened with LeGarrette Blount over the last week, on Thursday, the vibe around the Patriots was all good when it came to the newest Patriot. Special teams captain Matthew Slater called him a “great teammate,” while fullback James Develin said it was “good” to have him back. Meanwhile, Jonas Gray — who likely will see his role shrink some with the addition of Blount — said he had no problem with the move, adding that the veteran is is a “great guy to learn from.” As for what sort of role awaits him, it’s likely he’ll split duties with Gray as the primary between-the-tackles back, as well as serve as some sort of insurance policy if the stage gets too big for the youngster, or if he puts the ball on the ground at some point. It’s also possible he sees time as a part-time kick returner — with the occasional exception of Danny Amendola, no one has really done much to distinguish themselves in the position. With his background last year, it certainly makes sense for the Patriots to give him a shot back there.

2. Few teams have seen the type of turnover at the running back position as New England. With the injury to Ridley, if form holds, the Patriots will have their sixth different back lead the team in rushing in 2014 over the last decade — only four other teams (Saints, Browns, Broncos and Cardinals) have had more. Corey Dillon (2004-2006), Laurence Maroney (2007, 2009), Sammy Morris (2008), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2010-2011) and Stevan Ridley (2012-2013). And now, with Ridley on the shelf the rest of the year, this season it figures to be either Vereen, Gray or Blount. That could change again next year, as Brandon Bolden, Ridley and Shane Vereen are all in the final year of their contracts, while Blount, Gray and rookie James White are all under contract for 2015. (In addition, Tyler Gaffney, who was claimed by the Patriots this summer but is spending the year on injured reserve because of a knee issue, is still a possibility to be a part of the mix next season.) Regardless, even with all the changes, things could still change between now and the start of next season.

3. As forward thinking as the Patriots offense — and the passing game in particular — has been the last few years, there’s something impressively retro about what New England might be able to do this season. If we operate with the idea that a “running back by committee” includes a team with four backs with at least 40 carries, it appears that for the second straight season, the Patriots will attempt to be the first team to win a Super Bowl using the “running back by committee” approach since the 1987 Redskins, who won Super Bowl. Right now, the Patriots three different backs reach with at least 69 carries (Ridley with 94, Vereen with 70 and Gray with 69). While some of those numbers are borne out of necessarily since Ridley went down, if Blount is able to click down the stretch for New England — and it’s entirely possible he can hit the 40-carry mark, given his experience in the system — he would be a fourth. If the Patriots could take the title, it would represent the greatest cross-section of work for running backs for any Super Bowl champion since that Washington team emerged with a win in Super Bowl XXII. (Of course, that Redskins team could be discounted on a penalty, as that was a strike year and one of the backs was a scab who rushed 80 times in three strike games but never played another down. If you disqualify them on a technicality, them the last true RBBC team to win a Super Bowl in a non-strike year was the 1981 Niners, a team that had five different backs finish with 40 carries or more: Ricky Patton, Earl Cooper, Johnny Davis, Walt Easley and Paul Hofer.)

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Read More: Ahmad Bradshaw, Andre Ellington, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Brandon Bolden
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