FOXBORO, Mass. — With Tom Brady‘s top six targets from 2012 either injured or out of Foxboro, the Patriots will likely have to rely on Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen more in 2013.
Ridley is ready to take on a bigger role and his biggest priority is becoming a more versatile player. The third-year back has caught just nine passes for 64 yards in his first two years in the league after grabbing 17 passes for 94 yards in his three seasons at LSU. He doesn’t have a ton of experience catching the ball, but that could change in 2013.
“You have to focus on all aspects of the game — be an all-around player,” Ridley said. “You can’t just run the ball, you can’t just catch the ball, you can’t just be a blocker. If you can be a complete back, that’s the best back that you can be. Especially in this offense.”
Bill Belichick surely appreciates versatility — possibly more than any other coach in the league right now, as many teams are drafting more specialized players. The head coach also appreciates some balance in his offense. The Patriots were fourth in the NFL in passing attempts and second in rushing attempts in 2012.
“This is a balanced offense. We get it done through the air and the ground as well,” Ridley said. “If they come to the running backs a little bit more, we’re gonna be that excited to catch a few balls out of the air. I can’t really say they’re going to put more emphasis on it because there’s always emphasis on it out here. The coaching staff that we have — they don’t cut any slack. They want us catching the ball, they want us blocking, they want us running. They want us in all three phases. Not just one.”
Ridley may need to be played more on third down, which means more blocking and more receiving. If one of the rookie wide receivers doesn’t step up, Vereen could take on a much bigger role in the passing game, including taking reps at receiver. If that’s the case, Ridley will need to be used more in the backfield when Vereen would normally be back there.
“I’ll say this: Coaches have high standards for us,” Ridley said. “Monday through Saturday, they’re emphasizing with us to be complete backs. By complete backs, that’s all around — running the ball, catching the ball and blocking out of the backfield.”
Ridley and Vereen came to New England in the same draft class just 17 picks apart. The two have been buddies ever since — Vereen said they even live next door to each other.
“Shane’s gonna be important. That’s the right-hand man,” Ridley said. “Coming in together, we’re making these strides together. The first two years, things are kind of moving fast. But now we’re in our comfort zone. We know the offense. We’ve heard it all. We have to go out there and be the players that we are. We can’t try to do too much. If the team’s going to come to us some more, then so be it. We got to be those playmakers.”
Ridley was already one of the best running backs in the NFL last season, but he’s still trying to up his game before the 2013 season. That’s a scary thought since Ridley totaled 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground last year.
“Gotta work on all aspects of the game. I’m never perfect,” Ridley said. “From running to catching to blocking, I have to do all three at my position. I have to improve on it all. That’s the first mistake as a player to get complacent where you’re at. For me, it’s just trying to get better every day. I know the coaches are going to push for me to do that.”
So can Ridley put up a 2,000-yard season?