FOXBORO, Mass. — Stevan Ridley sets individual goals for himself every year, and after failing to accomplish his objectives last season, he has a second chance regain and keep his starting role in 2014.
Ridley said Thursday after New England Patriots organized team activities he wants to be a 1,000-yard back every year. He accomplished that feat in 2012, running for 1,263 yards, but he came up short last season. That’s because he was benched by head coach Bill Belichick for fumbling three times in three weeks. Ridley finished the year with 778 yards on 178 carries with seven touchdowns.
The Patriots passed on re-signing LeGarrette Blount, who took the starting running back role from Ridley in 2013, allowing the veteran to join the Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency this offseason. That should leave Ridley as the Patriots’ starting back next season, but he knows after three years in the Patriots’ system that nothing is guaranteed under Belichick. Ridley fully expects an open competition at the position this spring and summer.
“In this system, always,” Ridley said Thursday after OTAs. “I’m telling you, I don’t say that lightly. I mean, you can go out there and be a starter one game and the next game, you’re two or three guys behind. So really none of that matters. It’s week in and week out and that’s what coach stresses to us every week that we have to go out there and be competitive as we can be. He’s going to play the matchups game, and we just have to be unselfish enough to go out there and capitalize on the plays that we get. It’s not really about competition between the room. I think we just have to push each other to make each the best that we can be.”
Ridley will compete for that first-team role with veterans Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden, rookies James White, Stephen Houston and Roy Finch, and first-year player Jonas Gray. Ridley knows that to accomplish his goals next season, he has to hold onto the ball, and he’s passed that message along to his young teammates.
“All you can do is really squeeze it high and tight. I can’t really sit on it too much,” Ridley said. “I think that was a lesson I had to go through, and hopefully I won’t have to go through it again. But who knows? You never know what’s in plan or what God has in store for you, but a little adversity never hurts anybody. So for me, I have to go out there and be the player that I am. So in practice, I told one of the young guys today, that’s the quickest way to get off the field — you can ask me first — putting the ball on the ground.”
Ridley finished the 2013 season with zero fumbles in his final six games, including playoffs. It’s unrealistic to expect a running back to hold onto the football for an entire season, but Ridley will need to avoid a string of turnovers to hold onto his starting job and run for 1,000 yards once again.