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 fill open roster spot with former Browns DL Hughes

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Report: Patriots fill open roster spot with former Browns DL Hughes

The Patriots opened a roster spot by waiving defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, but they won't be adding a quarterback to take his place. 

According to Field Yates of ESPN, the team has swapped one defensive tackle for another by adding former Browns big man John Hughes, a 6-foot-2, 320-pounder who played under former assistant to the Patriots coaching staff Mike Lombardi when Lombardi was Cleveland's general manager in 2013. 

Hughes was released last week after spending just over four years with the team that drafted him in the third round in 2012. He signed a four-year extension with the Browns last season that was worth $12.8 million. 

With the Patriots, Hughes figures to work in as part of the rotation on the interior of the defensive line along with Malcom Brown, Alan Branch and rookie third-round pick Vincent Valentine. Unlike Johnson, who was more of a penetrating pass-rusher, Hughes should factor in as more of a space-eating type. He has 5.5 career sacks in 53 games. 

Johnson is the latest in a long line of Browns who played under Lombardi to end up in New England. The two most notable Patriots who spent 2013 in Cleveland are defensive end Jabaal Sheard and running back Dion Lewis. Linebacker Barkevious Mingo, who arrived in New England in a trade this summer, was drafted by Lombardi's front office as the No. 6 overall pick in 2013.

Pats exploit 'element of unknown' with Garoppolo or Brissett at QB

Pats exploit 'element of unknown' with Garoppolo or Brissett at QB

There’s no way to spin rookie Jacoby Brissett starting a game rather than three-year NFL veteran Jimmy Garoppolo or future Hall of Famer Tom Brady as preferable.
 
But can the disadvantages be mitigated? Can the fact there is no “book” on a player be helpful?
 
“I think there’s always an element of the unknown when you’re dealing with a player or something you haven’t seen or scouted as much,” said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on a conference call Monday afternoon. “I don’t know if there’s an advantage there, it’s just that you don’t have as much information on a player or on some scheme that they may use, which then forces you to figure some things out as the game goes along and do some quick self-scouting as you move through the first cquarter, the first half, whatever it is, just to make sure that if it is something new you haven’t seen before, if it is a player that you haven’t played against and don’t have a lot of volume of tape on, that you have an opportunity to evaluate quickly what is going on.

"What’s happening in the game? How much of an impact is that player having? Are they trying to  do something that’s disrupting what you’re trying to do with their scheme? I think that happens a lot of weeks during the course of the year based on health and availability, new players, guys being called up, someone that just got signed and you don’t really have a lot of experience watching them play in their system. I would say that’s a common occurrence for us.”
 
With a fullback or UDFA guard pressed into duty, there’s not a helluva lot that will be altered in terms of scheme. With players like Garoppolo and Brissett, though, the Patriots' long-established offense can take on an entirely different look if different areas are emphasized.
 
For instance, jet sweep is a play the team won’t use much with Tom Brady except as a “keep ‘em honest” on the edges kind of play. With Garoppolo, quickness when he gets outside the pocket has to be respected so if he fakes that jet sweep and rolls to the outside, he’s a run-pass threat with speed and downfield accuracy. With Brissett, he’s a threat with elusiveness, size and power as a runner. Additionally, if the Patriots wanted to try the old Elway Throwback to the opposite sideline, Brissett may have more arm power than either Brady or Garoppolo.
 
McDaniels said the Patriots aren’t looking necessarily for ways to “surprise” opponents as much as they are looking for ways to accentuate players’ strengths.  
 
“We’ve got to take the guys that we get to play with, based on health and other factors, and then we consider the defense that we’re getting ready to play against, and the great players and the scheme that they use, and then we try to formulate the right plan to allow our players to go out there and play fast, play well, and do the things that suit their talents the best,” McDaniels explained. “I don’t think that our mindset has changed.

"Some of the variables have changed from one week to the next, which is always the case,  and of course, when you get a group of guys a plan and then you work so hard to get ready for Sunday or Thursday night and go out there and watch them play and execute and take care of the ball and do the things you need to do to try to win, and then they enjoy it so much, that’s really the thing that you take the most satisfaction from as a coach.”