FOXBOROUGH — Stevan Ridley realized he was going to have to become more of a leader among the Patriots running backs when the veteran glanced around the room during a position meeting and noticed so many fresh faces staring back at him.
“I think really what coach said to us was that being a leader isn’t about what you say, it’s about what you do,” Ridley said Sunday after Day 4 of training camp ended with a spirited red-zone drill that pitted the first-team offense and defense.
“For me, going on Year 4, it’s about time that I step in there and if the team calls on me to take more of a leadership role, that’s what I’m going to do,” Ridley said. “It’s kind of strange going from being one of the youngest guys in the room to one of the oldest.
“Time does that to you and I realize that.”
At 25, Ridley is the ranking member of the running back committee, but only by a month over Shane Vereen, 25, and by a year over Brandon Bolden and Jonas Gray .
The Patriots, though, attempted to upgrade the position with an infusion of rookies, including James White, a fourth-rounder from Wisconsin, and undrafted free agents Stephen Houston of Indiana and Roy Finch of Oklahoma.
“I say it every year: I love my group, I really do,” Ridley said. “Not to single out a guy, but James has come in and done an awesome job. You know, me, Brandon, James, Shane, Stephen, Roy, it’s a group of us in there and we’re all working hard.
“As a group, we’re getting it done. So it’s good to have everybody healthy and on the field for once, us as a unit.”
It’s a unit Ridley fully expects to lead.
“There’s some guys in there behind me who are looking up to me,” Ridley said. “So I have to do my job and stay on my toes and be their leader, at all times, even when the coaches are not around, and still have fun but just be a leader and show these guys the right way to do things.”
Ridley struggled leading by example last season. He fumbled four times and was benched in Week 13 after fumbling for the third time in as many games, surrendering his starting job to LeGarrette Blount. Ridley, however, still led the team with 773 rushing yards on 178 carries and seven touchdowns.
Entering a contract year, Ridley can ill afford a repeat of 2013. Asked if his contract status would play on his mind this season, Ridley said, “Not really. I have to be honest about it. It’s there, but it’s not my first concern. My first concern is going out there and being the best player I can for this team.
“If I go out and have a productive year, and do what I need to do, the contract will take care of itself. So I’m not really going to put too much thought into that, because if you start thinking about that, it can easily become a distraction. So I can’t really worry with that. I’m going to have some good days, I’m going to have some bad days, but I’m just going to keep working and grinding it out.”
Chung a role model
Patrick Chung’s return to New England includes a new number (23) and several new faces in the meeting rooms, but how he goes about his work hasn’t changed much.
Fellow safety Devin McCourty was asked about Chung, the Patriots’ first pick in 2009, who spent four seasons in New England, then left last year as a free agent, signing a three-year, $10 million deal with the Eagles to play for his former coach at Oregon, Chip Kelly.
But Chung was released after a disappointing season, playing just 12 games. Hampered by injuries throughout his career, Chung has played in 16 games just once, as a rookie.
He now finds himself back in Foxborough where he is battling with Duron Harmon and Tavon Wilson for snaps.
“Pat’s a true pro,” McCourty said. “He comes in every day, he’s ready to work, he understands the defense, I think he’s another ‘model citizen’ for the young guys, someone they can look at and model their game, model what he does to get ready for practice, get ready to know what he’s doing, so it’s been great.
“He’s a friend of mine that was here the whole time I was here and he experienced something different for a year and now he’s back.”
Lots of fight in them
The fourth day of camp proved quite eventful for fifth-year tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, who was involved in a dust-up with rookie linebacker Taylor McCuller, an undrafted free agent out of West Texas A&M.
McCuller drew Hoomanawanui’s wrath when the rookie, looking to make a name for himself during an open-field tackling drill, pushed the tight end out of bounds, causing Hoomanawanui to trip over some equipment on the sideline and fall backward.
Hoomanawanui sprang to his feet and went at McCuller and tried to throw him to the ground. The players were separated. It was the second such camp fracas after cornerback Kyle Arrington engaged wideout Julian Edelman in a brief shoving match Friday.
Hoomanawanui, though, wound up limping off the field, favoring his left leg, after he seemed to injure it on the last play of a red-zone drill, which was truncated by heavy rain that brought an end to the session.
Odds and ends
Two days after he was carted off the field after having suffered an apparent right leg injury, the Patriots released first-year wide receiver Greg Orton, a 6-foot-3-inch, 199-pounder from Dayton, Ohio, who played at Purdue and in the Arena Football League (Spokane Shock) and United Football League (Omaha Knights) before joining the Broncos’ practice squad, where he spent parts of two seasons. If Orton goes unclaimed, he will revert to the Patriots and be placed on injured reserve. The Patriots also signed a pair of wideouts in Brian Tyms, a 6-3, 204-pounder out of Florida A&M who was signed by the 49ers as a rookie free agent in 2012 and played seven games for the Browns in 2013 (two catches, 12 yards), and Cole Stanford, a 6-2, 225-pound rookie from Cal-Poly, where he started out as a linebacker before converting to receiver after his freshman season. Stanford went on to rush for 314 yards on 54 attempts and catch 43 passes for 891 yards and eight touchdowns over 42 games in college . . . The Patriots will take Monday off and resume practices Tuesday.