Boasting team-highs in average yards per carry (5.1 yards), carries of at least 20 yards (five) and the longest carry of the season (a 33-yard run), Stevan Ridley appeared to be the most explosive running back in a Patriots jersey in 2011.
The Oakland Raiders know all about Ridley's talents. The young running back ran all over the silver and black in a Week 4 battle in the Coliseum. Running for 97 yards on only 10 carries, as well as scoring his first NFL touchdown, Ridley showcased brilliant field vision and great burst in open space.
This eye-opening performance not only caught the attention of fans, but caught the attention of the coaching staff as well.
Former Patriots' offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien was asked about Stevan's development as a rookie:
"I think he's a guy that's been improving every week," O'Brien said. "Early in the season, in the Oakland game, he had some productive runs for us. We've just been trying every week to get him in there."
In terms of physical attributes, Ridley has all you could ask for in an NFL running back, standing at 5'11'' and weighing in at 225 lbs. He also possesses blazing speed and is always a threat to break a tackle for a lengthy run.
While former Patriots starter Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis (who signed with the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason) earned his stripes with unparallelled ball security (he hasn't fumbled in his college or NFL career), patience and a knack for the end zone, he rarely ever made the big play that kept defenses on their toes. Last season, Green-Ellis had no carries for 20 yards or more.
Being stacked at wide receiver and enjoying the best pass-catching tight end duo in league history, the passing game should set up the running game nicely.
Even with the recent report that Joseph Addai will be joining the club, I fully expect Ridley to be the starting running back for the Patriots this upcoming season. With a full offseason to further his development, Ridley has a great opportunity to break out in 2012.
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