O'Brien: Ridley getting better, still long way to go

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O'Brien: Ridley getting better, still long way to go

In recent weeks, rookie running back Stevan Ridley has been used as New England's primary back in critical situations.

Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien gave his insight on the improvements Ridley has made during his first NFL season, but O'Brien also acknowledged that the young back has plenty more to work on.

"I think he's been a guy that's been improving every week," said O'Brien. "And early in the season, in the Oakland game, he had some productive runs for us. And so, we've just been trying every week to get him in there. And it just seemed like in the flow of the game, the way the game was going, we were trying to play at a fast pace, and he happened to be the back that was in there, and he had a couple good runs. So again, he was the guy we stayed with, just based on what was going on in that game.

"He's a bigger guy," added O'Brien. "I think he's a slashing type of runner. I think all the running backs have unique talents that they bring to the position, and he's just a guy that fit in pretty well at that position, and he's got a little bit of size, and things like that.

"So he's going to continue to improve and try to get better at the nuances on playing that position. That's a very, very difficult position to play, as a rookie, because you're involved in so many different things. The running game, blitz pickup, the passing game, route running versus zone and versus man. I mean, there's so many things that go into play at that position, and he's gotten better. But he's got a long way to go."

USA TODAY predicts 19-0 season for Patriots

USA TODAY predicts 19-0 season for Patriots

You can add USA TODAY to the Patriots' undefeated season bandwagon.

In its annual projections before NFL teams report to training camps this week, USA TODAY has the Patriots going 16-0 in the regular season, then beating the AFC West's L.A. Chargers and Oakland Raiders in the playoffs before capping a perfect 19-0 season with a Super Bowl 52 victory over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Minneapolis.

Here's their Pats' regular-season rundown from USA TODAY NFL writer Nate Davis:

New England Patriots (16-0): Is it bold? Sure. Kinda. But it's not like Tom Brady hasn't gone 16-0 before ... (and, really, wouldn't he and Bill Belichick secretly love to add 19-0 to their otherwise incomparable resumes?). And from the FWIW department, Brady went 14-1 last season and appears to be surrounded by an even better cast now, especially if Rob Gronkowski is, in fact, back to 100%. 

Pats wide receiver Julian Edelman called the 19-0 talk "stupid" last week. Bill Belichick is almost guaranteed to dismiss it if and when he's asked about it this week.