MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: A healthy Ridley playing to his strengths

Posted Aug 1, 2016

At this stage in camp, running back Stevan Ridley has two things that are important to him – his health, and an opportunity to win a significant role in the backfield.

Stevan Ridley is looking for an opportunity with the Detroit Lions to do what he did best at the times in his career when he's been at his best.

That is get the ball, find a crack in the opponent's defense, and gain the tough yards that keep the chains moving and keep drives alive.

If Ridley can do that the way he did early in his career with the New England Patriots – before a severe knee injury that sidetracked his career – he can be an important contributor in the Lions’ attempt to build a respectable running game.

At this stage he has two things that are important to him – his health, and an opportunity to win a significant role in the backfield. For Ridley, it starts with his health.

"I'm 100-percent healthy," Ridley said after practice Monday. "I'm just trying to get out there and let my plan speak for itself. I know my strength. My strength is getting out of the hole. I'm a one-cut and get downhill runner.

"I love to run the football. I really do. I say that all the time. If you want to turn around and hand the ball to somebody, I'm not afraid to get downhill and get the tough yards. That's what I like to do. That's where I make my living – wearing on the defense for four quarters.

"I'm not the fastest. If I get past 40 or 50 yards, the odds aren't in my favor. But the first 20, I'm pretty tough to deal with."

Ridley has an upbeat, confident personality and he sounded enthused about what he might be able to accomplish this year.

Ridley was signed by the Lions in April in the second wave of free agency. Ridley spent last year with the Jets in what amounted to a recovery season from the knee injury that ended his 2014 season with the Patriots in Game 6.

Ridley missed the first eight games last season while still in recovery mode from the 2014 injury. He played sparingly the rest of the season, gaining just 90 yards on 36 carries, with an average of 2.5 yards per attempt – well below his average of 4.34 yards per attempt in his first four seasons with the Patriots.

Ridley has looked strong and mobile in the first week of training camp. He has never been a speedster, but he is a one-cut runner with more power than one might expect from a 5-11, 220-pound back.

The Lions ranked last in rushing yards per game last year with an average of 83.4.

Ameer Abdullah stands to be the No. 1 tailback after a promising rookie season. He led the Lions in rushing with 597 yards and averaged 4.2 yards per carry. Abdullah had some issues with ball security, but he has the quickness to make tacklers miss.

Ridley fits in with returning backs Zach Zenner and George Winn as a runner who can provide a power element.

"He's one of the guys that's pretty well rounded," head coach Jim Caldwell said of Ridley, citing his ability to run inside and outside, pass protect and catch passes out of the backfield.

Ridley had big performances in big games for the Patriots. He rushed for 1,263 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012, his second season with the Patriots. He came back with 773 in 2013 while sharing the running load with LeGarrette Blount.

Then the knee injury struck in 2014, which ended Ridley's season – and his stay in New England. The Patriots went on to beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. Ridley played enough games to get a Super Bowl ring.

Reflecting on the highs and lows of his career, Ridley appreciates the opportunity to continue his career.

"I've been tested, man," he said. "I've got to say that. I've gone through a little bit of adversity. Your faith has to be strong. Nothing comes easy. I've been working a long time. In this game, especially the NFL, it's a dream to get here.

"Once you get here, you fight to be one of the best in it. I've been in a lot of big games that a lot of players haven't, who've played 10 or 15 years. I've been fortunate to see that. I'm just trying to get us back to those games.

"We have what we need (with the Lions). We have the pieces. We just have to bring it together and make sure this team is performing the right way."