Ridley looks to protect ball as role increases on Patriots

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Ridley looks to protect ball as role increases on Patriots

FOXBORO -- Stevan Ridley fumbled in Week 17 against the Bills. He did it in his next game too, an AFC Divisional playoff against the Broncos.

Take a seat, rookie.

Ridley never saw action again after fumbling that short Brady pass in the red zone in a third-quarter drive that saw the Patriots looking to go up 49-7 on the Broncos.

Nobody was surprised -- especially not Ridley himself.

"The ball can't be on the ground man, that's no secret," Ridley said Wednesday after Patriots-Saints practice concluded. "Fumbles will have you on the bench and nobody had to tell me that. That's kind of been a rule that I've had since I was young, that's nothing new to me. But this year we're going to try to go and do the best that I can. I have to try to keep the ball high and tight and I know that if I can keep the ball in my hands then I'll be on the field, so I have my work cut out for me."

The work started immediately after the Super Bowl -- a game that Ridley watched in uniform from the sidelines. Not being able to go out there and help his team was added fuel for Ridley's offseason workouts.

"Of course, man, of course," he said of using it as motivation. "Nobody likes to ride the pine, but you know you have to pay your dues and when you make a mistake you have to man up to it and just make sure you don't make the same mistakes."

The Patriots had BenJarvus Green-Ellis (who hasn't fumbled once in college or the NFL -- and allegedly not in high school either) last season, so benching Ridley wasn't a big deal. But this year? They don't have that luxury. Ridley looks to to be the favorite to win the Patriots No. 1 running back spot, and with that comes a lot more responsibility for the second-year back.

"This year you're kind of forced to grow up fast," he said. "You have to take the role that they give you, you have to perfect that and try to be really mistake-free. So for me, coming into this year it's just having a focus. A little bit more focus. Toning a few things down, putting in a little bit of extra time, taking care of your body. Coming out here on the field and being sound with what exactly you have to do with your assignments and things of that nature. So that's really how I'm going to try to best prepare myself for the upcoming season."

Ridley and Brady connected on a few passes under coverage on Wednesday, but just being out on the field with the first team for the majority of the day is the biggest difference from Year 1 to Year 2 for Ridley. You can bank on last year's 87 carries to increase.

"It's more reps man. I'm a little more comfortable out there," he said. "Am I perfect? Not by any means. I still have a lot of work to do. I'm just looking at how over time my carries and things have increased, my reps on the field have increased, but it's still a long way to go and there's still a long way to go."

Having played at LSU, the preseason game against the hometown Saints on Thursday night will surely add a little more meaning to an already meaningful game.

"Very excited about it, it's a big stage," Ridley said. "It's going to be very exciting to go out there and play against the Saints, especially coming from Louisiana, and we're up here working hard just like they are. It's the first game tomorrow, family is coming in. It's going to be a big-time atmosphere and I'm looking forward to it a lot."

But he isn't assuming anything, knowing there's still plenty of time left in camp.

"For me, nothing is written in stone," he said. "Nobody is the starter just yet. I'm just going out there and trying to make the most of the opportunities the coaches give me."

Hold on to that ball, kid, and you'll get plenty of them.

Belichick: Patriots have caught up after starting offseason 'five weeks behind'

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Belichick: Patriots have caught up after starting offseason 'five weeks behind'

FOXBORO -- After starting the offseason "five weeks behind," as Bill Belichick put it, the Patriots have caught up. 

"I think we’re probably caught up to where we are now," he said before Thursday's OTA practice at Gillette Stadium. "I think it’s being behind in draft, free agency and that type of thing.

"I think at this point, we’re ready for OTAs. We’ll be ready for training camp. I think that part of it we’ll be on schedule on. It’s the catching up on all the spring projects, draft and free agency. It’s the initial part of it."

Belichick made headlines on the morning after winning his fifth Lombardi Trophy with the Patriots when he said, "As of today, and as great as today feels and as great as today is, in all honesty we're five weeks behind in the 2017 season to most teams in the league. Fortunately we have a great personnel staff

"Look, in a couple weeks we're going to be looking at the combine, obviously the draft, all-star games have already occurred, and in a month we're into free agency, not to mention all the internal Patriots players (whose) contracts are up and we're going to have to work with in some form or fashion like every team in the league does."

Leaning on evaluations of players that began in the build-up to previous drafts, Belichick and his staff opted to trade away some of this year's draft capital for veterans like Brandin Cooks, Kony Ealy and Dwayne Allen. They also gave up their fifth-rounder to sign restricted free agent Mike Gillislee.

Before heading out to the team's third practice of the week -- the first week the Patriots were allowed to introduce helmets and run offense versus defense periods -- Belichick said that part of his focus will be spent on finding out how those players he picked up this offseason are progressing.

"Yeah, that’s definitely part of it," he said. "Seeing the new players, how they’re doing and also how they’re doing relevant to the rest of the other players that I’m a little more familiar with. Again, each year is a new year, so even though we’ve seen some of these guys multiple years, it’s still starting all over again, seeing where they are, how they’re progressing in their training and preparation for the season."