Patriots

Ridley thinks LSU experience has him ready

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Ridley thinks LSU experience has him ready

LSU. Alabama. USC. Florida. The list goes on.

Top notch schools turn out top notch players on a regular basis. It's not a secret. They've got the funding, the facilities, the pedigrees, and the better opportunities to be drafted, and they get the best recruits.

Mediocre players at the best D-I colleges are drafted ahead of studs at smaller schools all the time, it's just the way things are. NFL teams know these schools turn out players who are more ready for the NFL game. Heck, many believe the two Patriots' first round picks this season are ready to start on the team.

Patriots second-year running back Stevan Ridley looks to be the frontrunner for the running back job now, and coming from LSU feels ready for the task.

"I think LSU did a great job doing the best they could with me, you know what I mean?" he said Wednesday. "The coaches told us when we got at LSU Day 1 how it was going to be if we had dreams of playing at the next level, and that's how they run their program there. So for me a lot of things were very similar. You know, you respect the coaches, you come in and work hard everyday, and there's another man behind you ready to take your spot. As long as you know that going into each day you know how to come in and prepare yourself to put yourself in a position to be a contribution to this team."

But when Ridley walks into the running backs room now, a former fellow LSU Tiger and Patriots running back is no longer there. Kevin Faulk isn't with the team this year. After 13 years in the NFL -- all with the Pats -- Faulk is on the verge of retirement if the Pats don't show interest in him.

That one year spent with Faulk could prove wonders for Ridley though. He undoubtedly let Ridley in on some on-field tips, but it was his leadership by example off the field that will stay with Faulk long after Faulk has retired.

"Man, Faulk taught me a lot of things on and off the field," Ridley said. "But overall he just told me you have to come in here and work everyday. And he was up here for what, 13, 14 years. So appararently he was doing things right. So really I just watched the way that he carried himself and the way he did things. He was a lot of times the first one in and the last one out. So for me and just watching Faulk, that's the way you have to be successful is to dedicate yourself to this program and be a team guy. So that's what I really learned from Faulk.

Ridley says he has Faulk's number, and the two talk from time to time. Not having that veteran presence is a change, but one that Ridley says Faulk would want the backs to adjust to.

"In our running backs room he would want us to come together as a group if he was here," Ridley said. "And that's how he'd expect us to go out there and play as a unit and at the running back position."

Patriots donate 200 tickets to military members for tonight's game

Patriots donate 200 tickets to military members for tonight's game

Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona is also an officer in the Navy. He was instrumental in having the team donate 200 tickets to military members for tonight's game against the Atlanta Falcons at Gillette Stadium.

As ESPN's Mike Reiss pointed out, Cardona and teammate Matthew Slater were behind the plan to provide the tickets. The military personnel will also be on the field before the game. 

"It's a number that far exceeded expectations," Cardona told Reiss. "It was a collaborative effort. I was talking to Matt Slater, we were thinking of ways to reach out, especially to our local military community, and show how much we value them. My point of view was, 'Let's give these men and women the experience of coming to a big game.' Let's get them a personal feel, them being our personal guests, guests of the team."

The 200 tickets were provided by Patriots players and coaches, who each receive two tickets to a home game and the opportunity to purchase others 

“My point of view was, 'Let's give these men and women the experience of coming to a big game,'“ Cardona said in Reiss' story. “Let's get them a personal feel, them being our personal guests, guests of the team.” 

Gronkowski on pace for max earnings, ready for his crack at Falcons

Gronkowski on pace for max earnings, ready for his crack at Falcons

FOXBORO -- Despite missing one game this season, Rob Gronkowski is on track for a big year that would pay him more than double what he's scheduled to earn in 2017.

A thigh issue held the Patriots tight end out of action in Week 5 against the Buccaneers, yet he's still 12th in the league in receiving yards (401) and third among tight ends, behind only Travis Kelce (423) and Zach Ertz (405). His four touchdowns put him in the top-10 pass-catchers in the league in that category, and his six catches of 20 yards or more is tied for 14th. 

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If Gronkowski stays healthy and is on the field for the final 10 regular-season games of the year, he's on pace for 78 catches for 1,203 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those numbers would put him in contention for a first-team All-Pro nod, which would earn him the max $10.75 million for 2017 that's been written into his incentive-laden contract for this season.

But even if he isn't an All-Pro -- say Kelce and Ertz continue to have excellent seasons -- Gronkowski's 1,200 receiving yards would also trigger the max value of his deal. Seventy catches, 1,000 receiving yards or 12 touchdowns would trigger the second tier of Gronkowski's incentives, paying him $8.75 million. Sixty catches, 800 yards or 10 touchdowns would pay him $6.75 million -- up from the minimum of $5.25 million he's  guaranteed for this season.

Against Atlanta, he'll have a chance to combat the Falcons team speed in a way that he wasn't able to last February when he missed the Super Bowl following season-ending back surgery. 

"It feels great to be back playing, but I mean, it’s a whole new year," he said Wednesday. "It’s a whole new week. They’ve got different players now. We’ve got different players. They’ve got a different scheme a little bit from all the different players. We’ve got a little different scheme from all the new players that we have, so it’s a whole new game. It’s a whole new challenge this week and we’ve just got to work hard this week and get ready for Sunday night."

The Falcons defense features young and athletic players like linebackers Deion Jones and Duke Riley as well as pass-rusher Vic Beasley and safety Keanu Neal, but they haven't been all that stout against opposing tight ends in 2017. Per Football Outsiders, they rank 19th in defending tight ends, allowing 61.4 yards per game on 8.9 pass attempts. 

The Patriots could wind up seeing 6-foot-4, 232-pound linebacker De'Vondre Campbell on Gronkowski on Sunday night. He and Neal have been the primary defenders on tight ends in recent weeks, and against the Lions last month Campbell was targeted five times and allowed zero catches while covering tight end Eric Ebron.

"They're a good defense," Gronkowski said. "You've got to go out there and you've got to play your best football. I feel like at any time, any given time, if I'm not playing my best football, if I'm not taking the coaching points, if I’m not doing the things right out there on the field then I feel like I could be covered by any one.

"But also at the same time, if I’m doing things right, feeling good, taking the coaching points then I feel like I can get open on anyone. It just all comes down to playing the game this coming Sunday night."

The problem for Atlanta is that Gronkowski is playing his best football right now. And if he keeps it up, he'll be paid accordingly.