Allen Park – Stevan Ridley didn’t come to Detroit to simply get his career back on track, or to be the veteran voice in a room full of young players. No, the former New England Patriots running back has his sights set on playing a significant role with the Lions this season.
Ridley, a third-round draft pick for the Patriots in 2011, spent four seasons in New England, averaging 4.3 yards per carry and finding the end zone 22 times. But an ACL tear in Week 6 of the 2014 campaign derailed his promising career.
Coming back last year with the New York Jets, Ridley struggled to shake the post-injury rust. He registered just 36 carries and averaged a paltry 2.5 yards on those totes.
A free agent again this offseason, Ridley took a call from new Lions general manager Bob Quinn, who had worked in the Patriots’ front office during the running back’s time with the franchise.
“He called me, said he had something he wanted to talk to me about and told me about the opportunity they had,” Ridley said. “He was a big reason I was in New England and came here. He knew I was a free agent, looking for another chance and to give me that, I couldn’t be more thankful for it.”
Ridley jumped at the opportunity, where the depth chart offered a path to playing time. Sure, the Lions have some talent in the backfield, led by last year’s second-round draft pick Ameer Abdullah, but it’s also a group that finished last in the NFL in rushing production last season.
Ridley, just 27, wasn’t able to practice much during the early stages of the offseason, but he’s been a full participant the first couple days of training camp. At this point, he says his knee feels 100 percent.
“My body feels good,” he said. “I’ve done the therapy, I’ve done the rehab. There’s nothing to do now but come out here and play. I’m going to let my play speak for itself before I say I’m back.”
While Abdullah is projected to be the featured option out of the backfield for the Lions, the power component to the ground game – the guy who gets the ball on third-and-1 with the expectation he’ll secure a fresh set of downs – is still up in the air.
Before the start of camp, Lions coach Jim Caldwell noted the team has a lot of candidates for that job. Included in the group is Ridley, Zach Zenner and George Winn. Caldwell said each is capable and the team will ultimately go with the most consistent, versatile option.
Ridley will have his first real opportunity to state his case on Sunday, when the team puts on the pads for the first time this offseason.
“He can step in there and pass protect, he also runs the ball well, he’s got good feet and he can catch the ball out of the backfield,” Caldwell said. “So, we’re kind of waiting to see what happens when we get out here in pads.”
Securing that role would be a start, but Ridley isn’t limiting himself to the idea of being a third-down back. He’s eager to compete and show he still possesses the skill set to get the job done as a top guy in a rotation.
“First and second down, between the tackles, it’s kind of my thing,” Ridley said. “That’s where I’ve gotten it done my entire career.”