FOXBORO, Mass. — Rookie running back Stevan Ridley didn't waste any time. As soon as the Patriots cut Thomas Clayton on Wednesday, Ridley claimed No. 22, and he plans to rightfully honor his new jersey number.
"It was the number I had in high school," Ridley said Thursday. "It opened up for me to get 22, so I jumped on it. I'm going to try to come out there and do something with it."
The inspiration came from one of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's newest inductees.
"To be honest, I watched Emmitt Smith a pretty good bit coming up as a kid, and I would have to say that's where I got [the idea to wear No. 22]," Ridley said. "I wore it in high school and switched over to [No.] 34 in college. It opened up for me to have it at this level. I'm pursuing my dreams right now, so why not get back into the high school number?"
Ridley has been one of the Patriots' brightest performers through the first week of training camp. Known as a bulldozing runner between the tackles, Ridley has also displayed good hands in the passing game and some speed on the outside. He was very good in one-on-one blocking drills against linebackers, too.
All of those assets could lead him to get a chunk of carries over the course of his rookie season. Ridley benefited greatly through the team's first nine practices, when BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris weren't eligible to participate due to the post-lockout rules regarding new contracts.
Ridley, who started camp wearing No. 37 — an odd sight since it was so famously worn by Rodney Harrison, but a fitting number since Ridley can deliver the heat in the fashion of the Pats' former safety — took a good chunk of the carries with Danny Woodhead through the first week.
Ridley knew he had an opportunity, and he vowed to take advantage of it.
"The only way you're ever going to get onto the field is to take advantage of the opportunities you're given," Ridley said. "We've been a little low on numbers, but that's part of camp. Everybody is tired. Everybody is sore, but you have to come out here and make the best out of each and every opportunity, and that's all I'm trying to do."
The backfield will continue to get even more crowded — the Patriots had eight running backs on the roster Thursday night — and the carries will be tough to split up throughout the season. Green-Ellis is coming off the team's first 1,000-yard season in six years, and he'll be given an opportunity to retain his role as the lead back.
But the hot hand will ultimately command the touches, whether it's series by series or game by game. Ridley sounded perfectly happy with that philosophy, as well as any role he takes on with the Patriots.
"Whoever comes in here and works the hardest is who gets the reps in the game, so it's all about hard work and dedication," Ridley said. "And you'll learn that around this team. That's what I've picked up on pretty quick. We have a lot of team guys around here. I'm just following in their direction. I've been a team player, and I'm going to continue to be a team player. Any time you play together, you get a lot more accomplished than trying to do something by yourself."