Ridley’s fate in his hands
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When it comes to putting the ball on the ground, Stevan Ridley doesn’t have the luxury of skating by on a technicality. Fair or not, that’s just how it is when you have a reputation as a fumbler.
While his fumble during Friday night’s preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles might not have technically been a fumble upon further review — it appears his knee or even his arm was on the ground before the ball came loose — he doesn’t get a break.
Given his history, any time Ridley has a ball come loose, it just further enhances the reputation he’s desperately trying to shed.
And Ridley is well aware what’s at stake if he can’t hold on to the ball this season. He knows the deal. He’s in a contract year, and it sure looks like James White is being groomed to eventually take over his spot. That’s why it made him sick when the ball broke free from his grasp.
After practice Monday, Ridley, who has always stepped up in these situations, talked about the play and the fallout that comes with it.
“It’s too close to call (whether it was a fumble). Either way I need to avoid those plays in general,” he said. “There’s nothing really else to be said about it . . . I hated it and it was a sick feeling for a second. We looked at the play, and it is what it is, but either way, one out is too many. I’m not going to harp on that, I’m going to learn from it.”
The lesson? Ridley himself isn’t exactly sure what he could have done differently, as safety Earl Wolff tore the ball away.
“That’s what I’m still trying to figure out,” he said. “Getting tackled by a few defenders, it’s football, they’re taught to go after the ball and attack it. It’s just staying alert, being conscious of that and trying to get two hands on it. That’s really all you can do.”
As it was, Patriots fullback James Develin alertly recovered the ball. But again, that’s not the point.
Until Ridley is able to rid himself of the problem, and not have these drops creep in every so often, whether they’re considered fumbles or not, he has to live with doubt both from the outside world and, more important, from the people putting the ball in his hands.
This is more a question coach Bill Belichick has to decide, and whether Ridley is ultimately worth the risk when the real games begin. No one hates turnovers more than Belichick, so it’ll be interesting to see how much more rope he extends to his top back, especially with White waiting in the wings.
The offense, however, isn’t quite the same without Ridley. He’s the team’s best runner. No one attacks the holes quite like him, or runs as fiercely. He was having a pretty good night against the Eagles (nine carries, 45 yards). He had some jump in his step before suffering that hiccup in the second quarter.
Ridley didn’t see another down after losing the ball. He wasn’t sure if he was taken out for the fumble, or if it was simply a matter of him achieving the desired workload (16 snaps).
During Monday’s practice, just as it has been for each and every training camp practice thus far, Ridley was clean. Defensive back Daxton Swanson tried to punch the ball away like a madman during ball-security drills, but Ridley hung on. But still, there was a media posse waiting for him, just because a ball popped loose when he might have been down.
“When I go back and watch the play, and the ball is out again, Week 2, it kind of (stinks),” Ridley said. “But it’s football, man, and I can’t get down about it. I can’t harp about it. That’s why you have preseason. I’m just going to keep on working and keep on pushing.”
He knows if he kept it in his hands, he’s not answering questions, and reliving the play, over and over again.
“I just gotta learn from it and keep moving and not sulk on it,” he said. “I will try not to have this issue and this be the topic the whole year this year because I think I can do a few other things that y’all can write about and hopefully have some good things to say. But either way, I’ve got to own up to it. That’s what it was.”
Ridley said he worked really hard during the offseason, investing a lot of time in getting himself prepared for the new year. He felt great running the ball, and it showed.
“Going out there in these first few games, and last week, I was really able to get in there and run some,” he said. “To have the creases we had this past Friday was awesome. It was a good feeling. And I hate what happened at the end. I’m not going go back on it. I just know what I have to do this year. That’s all to be said. I have to stop talking about it. I just have to go do what I have to do.”