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.

Report: Patriots sign LB Jonathan Freeny to two-year extension

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Report: Patriots sign LB Jonathan Freeny to two-year extension

The Patriots have signed backup linebacker and special teamer Jonathan Freeny to a two-year contract extension through 2018, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported.

Freeney, 27, was originally signed by the Patriots to a one-year free-agent deal in March 2015 after spending the first four years of his NFL career with the Miami Dolphins. He then earned a one-year extension last September and played 13 games, seven starts, with 50 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. 

"Jonathan is a very dependable player," Bill Belichick said on a conference call Saturday. "He is able to do a lot of different roles for us. He can play inside, outside, on the line of scrimmage and off the ball defensively. He has been a very valuable player for us in the kicking game, obviously with some size, a four-phase special teams player.

"He is one of our overall top workers in terms of the offseason program, preparation, training. He always does things right. He works hard, doesn't really say a lot, but is very dependable and consistent. I think everybody in the organization looks up to him."

 

49ers' Colin Kaepernick refusal to stand for national anthem ignites controversy

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49ers' Colin Kaepernick refusal to stand for national anthem ignites controversy

Colin Kaepernick was already a noteable NFL player as the one-time, and now apparently former, face of the San Francisco 49ers.

The quarterback likely will gain even more notoriety for his stance on refusing to stand for the national anthem at a preseason game on Friday:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told Steve Wyche of NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

In a statement released Saturday, the NFL said players "are encouraged but not required to" stand for the anthem.

More here from Mike Florio of NBCSports.com's Pro Football Talk on Kaepernick and Florio on the NFL's statement in response.

 

 

Curran: Impact of Brady's suspension already being felt on field

Curran: Impact of Brady's suspension already being felt on field

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It’s an inconvenient and uncomfortable truth that can’t just be blissfully ignored.

The pound of flesh Roger Goodell extracted from the Patriots in the form of Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension is starting to hurt.

Friday night, we watched the less-than-ideal quarterback rotation between Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo unfold. 

Garoppolo completed a 17-yard dart to Aaron Dobson on his first throw of the night. He completed eight of his next 14 for 40 yards – an ugly yards per attempt average of 3 – took a sack, threw a would-be pick and had a fumble. He looked skittish, indecisive and a thousand miles away from being in total command.

The Brady suspension was designed to punish the Patriots and it is.

Garoppolo played three ineffective series at the start of the game. He got the hook after that and the predictable power surge that came when Brady was on the field instead of the guy who – on this night – couldn’t get anything done was almost tangible.

Garoppolo’s first pass went to Dobson went for 17? Brady dialed up the same player and the play went for 37. Three of Brady’s six incompletions were drops (one was a near pick) and his 33-yard touchdown throw would have given every quarterback in the league except maybe Aaron Rodgers inadequacy issues.

I asked Garoppolo earlier in the week about trying to take command of the team while still remaining deferential to Brady’s status as TFB, future Hall of Famer. Garoppolo admitted it was tough.

How can it not be when the reminders are everywhere, including the pregame exit from the locker room and the trot onto the field. 

Brady is the leader. Jimmy is the long-term substitute. Substitutes don’t have it easy.

There is no solution for what’s going on. It is the ultimate, “Is what it is…” scenario. Can’t do anything about it, so everyone’s got to deal with it.

For Brady on Friday night, that meant staying apart from pretty much everyone for most of the first quarter.

When the Patriots offense was on the bench, he stood with arms folded and jaw set staring onto the field with the occasional glance up at the replay board or over at the area where Garoppolo, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and rookie Jacoby Brissett were going over plans.

When the Patriots offense took the field, Brady retreated to the bench and sat alone. There were two interactions during the first three series came when strength coach Moses Cabrera went to Brady and clapped him on the shoulder pads then rubbed his head as Brady sat on the bench. The other came when Brady sidled up to Brissett and asked him to play catch.

This is not open hostility. This is not Brady trying to undermine Garoppolo. But anyone expecting to see Brady putting an arm around Garoppolo every time he came off the field and publicly lend an ear to Jimmy isn’t getting that. Who knows, maybe Garoppolo doesn’t want that, maybe Brady thinks it’d be counter-productive, maybe McDaniels wants there to be one voice in Garoppolo’s ear during games. The fact is, it’s not cozy.

And you shouldn’t expect it to be. Brady is a quarterback who – while still at the height of his powers – is being forever reminded that the party for him is almost over.

Belichick himself did it the day he drafted Garoppolo. Consider again what was said: 

“The situation we have at quarterback, I think that we felt as an organization that we needed to address that to some degree in the future, so we’ll see how all that works out,” Belichick said during the 2014 draft when Garoppolo was taken in the second round. “I think we’re better off being early than being late at that position. We know what Ryan [Mallett’s] contract situation is. We know what Tom’s age and contract situation is. I don’t think you want to have one quarterback on your team. I don’t think that’s responsible to the entire team or the organization."

Age? Contract? Rather be early at that position than late?

Brady’s best method for combating speculation about when he’d be put out to pasture has been to own his position with peerless play and turn in – in my opinion – the best Super Bowl performance a quarterback’s ever had.

Not only is Brady miles away from being ripe for the picking, the only reason Garoppolo’s playing at all is because of a BS investigation and punishment that turned Brady’s life upside down and besmirched his name.

Garoppolo taking Brady’s reps, taking Brady’s team for a month is the punishment for Deflategate. Watching Jimmy G. play is the punishment Brady was handed. No wonder he’s standing with arms folded and jaw set.

If you simply look at the dynamics between players of Brady’s ilk and their would-be successors you realize that expecting Brady to go merrily along and show no signs of agitation is absurd. Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, Joe Montana and Steve Young, Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. In each, the incumbent wasn’t real keen on wet-nursing the new guy.

Garoppolo’s case is a little different, though. He has no illusions about being better than Brady (that little 25-for-25 day from Brady in the intrasquad scrimmage earlier this month probably helped put that to bed). 

Garoppolo just wants to come in, play well, do his job and not step on any toes. He’s not looking to create a quarterback controversy. But he can’t afford to be deferential anymore or concerned about how the legend in his shadow feels or how he feels about the legend in his shadow.

He just has to go play. Something that Brady – very soon – won’t be able to do.