By: Steve Balestrieri
Stevan Ridley has the opportunity to carve out a big share of the running game if he can improve his ball security. (USA TODAY Images)
Stevan Ridley has heard it all before and it was a subject he didn’t want to talk about, but he knows it is an issue and he was there to face the music. Ridley’s fumble in last Friday’s pre-season game against the Eagles was the question on everyone’s mind and although the Patriots ultimately recovered the ball, questions remain about his ball security.
And Ridley knows that he has to clean up his fumbling, but he remains the best option for the Patriots running game entering the 2014 season. It is frustrating for the 4th year running back from LSU but he also knows if it continues, he’ll end up on the bench again. His fumble against Philadelphia also marked the final play of his night. Like in 2013 when he was benched for a game in Houston because of not only his fumbling but the timing of them which hurt the team.
Although Ridley has heard it before, he wasn’t taking the media to task over the endless questions that have to be asked, “That’s part of your job. I know it is coming, you all have to write articles and do what you all do,” he said with a half smile. “It’s part of it. You take the good with the bad, every time,” Ridley said.
Ridley relived the play and his feelings toward it in candid fashion, “the ball is out again, it is Week 2, it kind of sucks,” Ridley said. “But it is football, man, and I can’t get down about it. I can’t harp about it. That’s why you have preseason. I’m just going to keep on working and keep on pushing,” he added.
And the sad part is while everyone talks about the fumble, Ridley has been having an excellent pre-season. While much has been written about James White and his increasing amount of snaps during training camp, it is Ridley who remains the best option for the Patriots when it comes to being a workhorse type back.
Throughout camp and in limited pre-season action, Ridley has been consistent. He’s made good decisions, usually with one cut; he’s been explosive at hitting the holes, keeping his pad level low and is able to move through contact.
If there’s been one downside to White thus far, he doesn’t generate much yardage after contact. White and Vereen have similar skill sets; both are able to run the ball with effectiveness either outside or between the tackles but their main value will be in the passing game. Neither has the size or the power to consistently move the pile after the first hit.
Brandon Bolden has done so effectively but has never found the consistency to stay on the field. Rookie Jonas Gray has had some flashes in camp and did turn in a nice performance against the Eagles but he’s a long shot to make the roster at this point.
While Bill Belichick likes the running back by committee approach and will no doubt continue that practice this season, the team’s commitment to remaining balanced in the running and passing games dictates that they stay the course in running the ball and Ridley is hoping to regain the form that saw him gain 1263 yards in 2012.
Since 2010 the Patriots have led the league with rushing touchdowns inside an opponent’s 5 yard line with 56. With the departed LaGarrette Blount now a Pittsburgh Steeler, Ridley remains the team’s best option down close. But he has to hold on to the ball. And know that the questions will remain until he proves it.
“I need to avoid those plays in general,” Ridley said. “There’s nothing really else to be said about it. … I hated it. It was a sick feeling for a second. We looked at the play, it is what it is, but either way one out is too many. But I’m not going to harp on that. I’m going to learn from it.”
Ridley mentioned that his and the team’s focus was now getting back to work and that means preparing for the tough Carolina Panthers, this Friday night in Foxboro. Normally the third pre-season game is considered the dress rehearsal for the regular season. However Bill Belichick kind of pooh-poohed the idea in his press conference Monday stating that the Panthers just played on Sunday night and that the team wouldn’t put much game planning into the contest.
But with the end of training camp practices on Monday, the team will now follow a more regular season schedule for here on. For Ridley that means preparing for the opportunity to run against a team that defeated the Patriots in November. Ridley carried 13 times for 48 yards and one touchdown but also had a lost fumble in that game.
“I will try not to have the issue and this be the topic the whole year this year because I think I can do a few other things that you all can write about, and hopefully have some good things to say. Either way, I have to own up to it and that’s what it was.”
The team will continue to prepare for the Friday matchup with the Carolina Panthers so be sure to check out PatsFans.com for the latest updates. We also are updating the stats database and now have the PatsPicker where you can play GM and select your own 53 man roster for the Patriots.
Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.
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