FOXBOROUGH — Stevan Ridley’s third NFL season did not bear much resemblance to his second, in which he ran for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns, one of the best rushing seasons in Patriots history.
Last season, his third, Ridley was on and off the field as he fumbled four times, including losing fumbles in three straight games. In his low point of the year, Ridley traveled to Houston for the Week 13 matchup against the Texans, only to be told on game day he wasn’t going to play.
Ridley paced the Reliant Stadium sideline with a football tucked in his arm, and coach Bill Belichick said the next day that he wasn’t trying to send a message to the running back.
On Thursday, Ridley sounded a reflective tone as he discussed what the adversity from 2013 taught him and how he’s grown since the Patriots took him 73d overall out of Louisiana State in 2011.
“It is, I would have to say,” Ridley said when asked if last season is the toughest he’s experienced. “I set goals for myself every year. I want to strive to be a 1,000-yard back every year, and to not reach that was kind of really a little bit under what I wanted, but it wasn’t about my personal goals.
“I think it really tested my faith and it really said that it’s more about God’s timing instead of my timing, and everybody has what they think is the best for them and everybody has that preset in their mind, but I think as a Christian first, you just have to realize that God has a plan for you.
“Whatever it may be, you just have to believe in that, and every day that you wake up, and you’re healthy and your family’s OK, and you have friends around you and you have a team to play for, there’s so many people that would give their right arm and their right leg for that opportunity. So, I have to be thankful. Even though you mess up and you’re going to be down some days, you just come back to work the next day because yesterday is behind you; all you can do is go forward from that point. That’s really what I learned through it all, and really I’m just thankful.”
Despite a decline in carries — Ridley missed two games, and LeGarrette Blount had increased playing time late in the season — Ridley led the team in rushing with 773 yards (Blount had 772) and seven touchdowns. Ridley also had a career-high 10 receptions.
The coming season is the final of Ridley’s four-year rookie contract. Blount departed for Pittsburgh in free agency, but Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden remain. New England also drafted James “Ball Security is Job Security” White in the fourth round this year, and signed three undrafted rookies at the position.
Ridley tries not to think about his contract status, he said, and is focused on improving.
There is always open competition at the position, with Ridley noting that a back can be the starter one week and be second or third off the bench a week later.
“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 to be as competitive as we can be,” he said. “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 we get, so it’s really not about competition between the room, I think we have to push each other to make each other the best that we can be.”
After spending a good amount of time in the offseason in Los Angeles with a number of teammates — Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, and Ryan Mallett — and also starting work on his long-held dream of a clothing line, Ridley returned here focused on football.
“I’ve grown a lot and I’ve learned a lot [since coming to New England]. It’s a business, and I know what coaches expect out of me,” he said. “You’re going to have your good days, you’re going to have your bad days, but that can’t determine who you are as a person.
“You just have to keep pushing, because really, at the end of the day, it’s a blessing to be here. All days aren’t going to be awesome, but you just have to keep pushing. Everyone is human, but at the end of the day I just know that I try to be the best player that I can for this team.”