FOXBORO -- Now at the midway point of his first season as the Patriots lead running back, Stevan Ridley says he's feeling good and ready for eight more games.
"Body feels OK, man," Ridley said. "Still playing football. Still on the field. As long as I'm not missing any playing time, it's 100 percent. I'm thankful to be healthy and thankful to be in my position where I am. Got a little bit of football left to play. Hopefully I can be healthy all the way until the end."
His relative health is hard to believe given his running style. Not only is he unafraid of contact, he actively tries to trample tacklers as he finishes his runs. Craig Dahl, a Rams safety, was Ridley's latest victim. He got steamrolled by the Patriots second-year back in the third quarter of New England's win on Sunday and had trouble getting up afterward.
Somehow, Ridley has doled out more punishment than he's taken; he hasn't appeared on the Patriots injury report since the start of the season. Still, he'll gladly take the rest that comes with his team's bye week this week.
During his few days off, he'll home to take in a game at his high school Trinity Episcopal Day School in Natchez, Miss., and then head to Baton Rouge to watch his Louisiana State University play University of Alabama. Aside from watching football, he'll be able to get off his feet and recover from the bumps and bruises he's earned by plowing his way through the first half of the season.
"It's gonna be a lot of rest for me," Ridley said. "Gotta get in and get a workout in. If I get one today, I might get one in later on right before we get back. But it's gonna be a lot of rest, a lot of sleep, just letting the body recover and do it's own thing."
It's hard to know how many carries will be awaiting Ridley when he returns from the bye week because the Patriots like to rotate their backs so frequently. But it's clear he's earned the right to be a trusted cog in the team's high-powered offense.
"They biggest thing about Stevan is that hes very passionate about the game," said running backs coach Ivan Fears. "Stevan loves to play and I think thats his first and biggest asset. Theres no doubt -- on a game day, he is there. He is mentally in the right frame of mind to play the game. I think as long as he's got that kind of passion for the game, hes going to do the little things that he needs to do to be physically ready to play the game."
The only drawback to Ridley's strong first half is that, on the field, he hasn't always done the little things well. Fears said he's improving in pass protection, but that Danny Woodhead (who at 5-foot-8 and 200 pounds is three inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than Ridley) is still the better player in that aspect. Also, the ball-security issues that hounded Ridley at the end of his rookie season returned when he fumbled in consecutive games against Buffalo and Denver.
"I think hes done some good things. I think there are certainly a lot of things he can improve on," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "There have been times when hes had really good blocking and times when hes produced yards on his own. There are have been other times when things havent gone as well. I think there are lot of things he can work on. Hes still a young, improving player that does some things well."
Despite the occasional hiccups in Ridley's still-maturing game, he has proven himself to be one of the most productive backs in the league. He leads the AFC in rushing with 716 yards on 150 attempts. His 4.8 yards per carry is almost a full yard more than the average carry of Texans All-Pro running back Arian Foster (3.9).
When he was at Trinity Episcopal or LSU, did he ever think that he might lead the AFC in rushing one day? Not exactly.
"I never would've thought that in a million years to be honest," he said. "But like I said, I'm very fortunate. The Lord's blessed me with that. I just go out there and run the football, and I look up right now, I'm leading the AFC in rushing. It's a dream come true for me, like I said. To be out here every day. To say I saw that -- not at all, I'd be lying. But I still got a lot of work to do in front of me . . . I'm looking forward to the next eight that we have."