Patriots

Ridley makes strong first impression

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Ridley makes strong first impression

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
Follow @sherrodbcsn

FOXBORO First impressions have a way of sticking around for a long time.

New England Patriots rookie Stevan Ridley hopes that old axiom holds true to form after an impressive performance in the New England Patriots' 47-12 preseason win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In a Standing Room Only-like backfield, Ridley's play stood out from the rest on Thursday night.

He led the rushing brigade for New England with 64 yards on 16 carries, which included a pair of touchdown runs. Known as a powerful, hard-running back at LSU, Ridley showed that he can be a factor in the Patriot's passing game as well.

In addition to his rushing numbers, he also had 7 catches for 47 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown.

"I just go out there and be a football player," said Ridley, selected by the Patriots in the third round of this past spring's NFL draft. "I'm just doing what the coaches ask me to do. They want me to be a downhill runner. That's what I'm going to continue to do. If that's what this team needs me to do, that's what I'll continue to do."

But with so many talented players in the backfield, Ridley is out to prove that he can help the Pats in other areas as well - like the passing game.

When you look at the scouting reports on Ridley coming out of college, there was very little mention of his ability as a pass-catching threat coming out of the backfield.

Against Jacksonville, Ridley took the first step in answering any lingering questions about his hands.

"God has blessed me, just to get out there and be able to have a lot of talent, just to get out there and do a lot of things; catching the ball and running," said Ridley, who had 11 touchdown receptions as a junior at LSU. "Try to be an all-around back. I'm nowhere close to perfect. I just have a lot of work to do."

Not surprisingly, coach Bill Belichick agrees.

While acknowledging that Ridley did have "some good runs and "a couple good catches," Belichick saw areas in need of improvement as well.

"Routes, pass protection, couple run-reads that didn't look . . . we'll see how it looks on film," Belichick said. "It looked like he ran hard."

Running hard and with power has never been much of an issue for Ridley, who left LSU after a junior season in which he had 1,147 yards on the ground along with 15 rushing touchdowns.

But in his short time in the NFL, Ridley has seen enough to know he has a lot to still learn.

And the NFL lockout didn't help.

At a time when he would have been working with veterans and learning the playbook, Ridley, like the rest of his rookie class, have essentially been learning on the playbook on the fly while at the same time, trying to digest it enough to where they're just out there playing and not thinking so much about playing.

It puts a greater premium on surrounding him with sound veterans such as Sammy Morris, who tells CSNNE.com that Ridley has been one of the many rookies to ask lots of questions of the Patriot veterans.

"They're always asking, and we do our best to make them feel welcome in asking us," said Morris, a 12-year veteran. "Going back to this year being a different season compared to others (because of the lockout), it's going to be tougher for the rookies having not ever seen an NFL playbook or an NFL defense or anything. But not just him, all our rookies, they're doing a good job of trying to learn what they can, making adjustments and being coachable and talking to a lot of the vets as well."

And while Ridley's strong performance in his first NFL game certainly gives him every reason to feel confident moving forward, by no means is he putting too much stock in it.

It was a preseason game against a Jacksonville team that, like the Patriots, rested a number of key players.

Preseason or not, Ridley refuses to get too high about his play.

"I'm not satisfied," Ridley said. "I'm sure the coaches aren't, either. I'm going to continue to work hard every day and try to do my best and help this team improve and get better."

Which is the kind of lasting impression that bodes well for him as well as the Patriots.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn.

Patriots’ injury report: Center Andrews, WR Hogan out

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Patriots’ injury report: Center Andrews, WR Hogan out

The Patriots will be without center David Andrews on Sunday when they play the Raiders in Mexico City. Andrews, who hasn’t all practice all week with an illness, is one of four Pats listed as out on the injury report released Friday.

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Offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, who didn’t play last week against the Broncos is also out, along with wide receiver Chris Hogan and special teams captain Matthew Slater. Offensive linemen Ted Karras and Joe Thuney each took reps at center so one of them will likely start in Andrews’ absence. LaAdrian Waddle filled in for Cannon and performed well last week vs. Denver. 

Here’s the full injury report for the Patriots and Raiders: 

 


 

Belichick getting the most out of his veteran safeties

Belichick getting the most out of his veteran safeties

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. - Bill Belichick’s never been shy about getting the players who play the best on the field as much as possible. 

So, when he looked at a crowded secondary this summer, the Patriots’ coach didn’t view every spot as a defined position. Instead, he analyzed the skill set of his players and decided that the Pats needed their top three safeties - Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Pat Chung - on the field as much as possible. Just past the midway point of the season, Belichick and his defensive coaching staff have managed to do that quite a bit.

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McCourty missed one defensive snap all season, the last play of the opener (590). Harmon has often times found himself as that single-high safety (479) while - as illustrated earlier - Chung has played 83 percent of the snaps, although about a third of those designated as a cornerback (494 total/333 as safety). There are only two other teams in the NFL that play three safeties as often as the Patriots: the Chiefs (Ron Parker, Daniel Sorensen and Eric Murray) and Broncos (Justin Simmons, Darian Stewart and Will Parks). 

When I asked Belichick about all that the responsibilities he puts on that safety trio, the coach wouldn’t single out just those three. He also highlighted veterans Nate Ebner and Jordan Richards.

“That’s good group really with Pat, Devin, Duron, Jordan, Nate gives us a lot in the kicking game. That’s five guys that all help us in a lot of different ways…they all are pretty versatile,” said Belichick. 

Versatility is a critical element to the Patriots being able to put those players on the field and keep them there, no matter what the opposition throws New England’s way.

“You see Jordan play strong safety, you see Jordan come in in multiple defensive back sets. You see Chung play a corner type of role sometimes. I play a corner type of role. I  think it allows us to say ‘if they come out in this personnel, we’ll be ok’” said Devin McCourty. “We’ll just match up these guys in whatever different role in the defense and it’ll work.”

Of course, sometimes that’s easier said than done when you consider what personnel the opposing team can employ. In the opener against Kansas City, the Pats tried and failed to match up with an explosive grouping that including Tyreek Hill and DeAnthony Thomas, wide receivers who can line up in the backfield and take a handoff as well. 

The opponent Sunday, Oakland, doesn’t have those kinds of pieces, but the Raiders still have players in place that can keep defensive coordinators up at night. The suspicion here though is that Matt Patricia sleeps better than most, in part because of his secondary.

“A team like Oakland will come in what we call ‘oh 1’ personnel where they have four receivers and [tight end Jared] Cook on the field, which is kind of like a fifth receiver,” noted McCourty. “We can easily stay in different groups and say ‘all right, this is how we want to match that.’ Where if we didn’t have that versatility we’d have to start to run corners on and then they keep [Marshawn] Lynch on the field in place of Cook and run the ball. There’s so many different things that the offense can do to mismatch personnel. Having the versatility and players who understand different roles allows players to stay calm and match up.”

There’s also an unseen element to what this safety group brings to the field every week. That’s their experience, not just in the NFL, but together. There’s comfort in knowing the guy next to you has seen the same things you have and can go through their mental Rolodex to recall and adjust to personnel groupings and formation changes that maybe weren’t prepared for during the week (yes, even with Belichick as the coach that happens).

“I’ve been playing with Pat and Dev - all of us being together - this has been four years and you don’t catch that too often, especially three safeties,” said Harmon. “I just think us being able to be in a whole bunch of different positions, being able to learn from each other and playing together has allowed us to even been more versatile with each other and be able to run more things, have a better feel for the defense and put ourselves in maybe different positions that you wouldn’t put anyone else in.”

“We don’t have many groups like us that have been together for the last four or five years,” said McCourty. “We don’t always break things down as the strong safety, free safety, the money back, like a lot of things we did, it’s just a position, a spot on the field. I think we all understand that all three of us or all four of us on the field at any time can play at any of those positions. I think that allows us to say, ‘Remember last time we did this, in this game, you were here and you were there’ but this time because this is what they like you go here and I’ll go there. This that allows us to understand what we do defensively but also match it to whatever the offense does. Obviously, that’s what the coaches want to do. When the players can do that, it always helps.”

Belichick knows this and it’s pretty clear this trait - the ability to adjust on the fly - is something he appreciates a great deal. That’s why over the past five games, you haven’t noticed nearly as much movement and - let’s face it - confusion as there was in that first month. The players have shared history to fall back on and it’s smoothed out the communication and led to a much higher level of play.

“We can definitely go back to things that maybe we haven’t done in a while, talk about how we used this against Tampa or we used this against Buffalo or somebody and there’s good recall and good application of it,” Belichick said. “Yeah, there’s times where that definitely helps. Same thing on the offense, with guys like Tom [Brady], James White, Rob [Gronkowski], Danny [Amendola]  - guys that have done things together for multiple years. You got a situation that’s similar to a situation you had awhile back, you can go back and refer to that. You’re not going to be able to do that with Deatrich Wise or [Jacob] Hollister. They just haven’t had that kind of experience. But with experienced players, sure, that comes up from time to time. That’s a good reference.”

So, don’t be surprised Sunday in Mexico City if you see Harmon shaded over the top of Amari Cooper, or McCourty in the box providing an extra run fit, or Chung playing slot corner or linebacker. It’s old hat for a group that is asked to do more and routinely responds well to those challenges. 

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