You might have noticed that Stevan Ridley didn’t return to the field after nearly committing a fumble in the second quarter of the New England Patriots’ preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Although it wasn’t officially a fumble because Ridley’s knee touched the ground right before the ball came loose, it’s still concerning. Considering just how entrenched Ridley is in Bill Belichick’s doghouse, that absence could be a preview of things to come in 2014.
There is no doubt that Ridley is one of the more talented backs in the NFL. He has a great burst after taking the handoff, spots developing holes and finishes runs as well as anybody. The Patriots are simply a better team when Ridley is on his game.
However, sometimes it looks like Ridley can’t hold onto the ball, even if his life depended on it. In the second quarter of Friday’s preseason game, Ridley came perilously close to fumbling yet again, showing that he still hasn’t mended his ball-security issues. While there are still two preseason contests yet to be played, Ridley’s status as the Patriots’ top back is in serious jeopardy.
When it comes to decreasing a player’s role because of a tendency to turn the ball over, Belichick is the most ruthless head coach in the NFL. Belichick hates turnovers, and will go to just about any length to prevent them, as he showed late last season when Ridley’s appearances became few and far between.
As preseason rolls on, it’s becoming more apparent that the Patriots have a very solid backfield. The Pats won’t hesitate to plug Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden or rookie James White into larger ball-carrying roles if Ridley’s fumbling struggles continue. Even undrafted rookies Roy Finch and Jonas Gray stand a chance to make an impact if one of them squeaks onto the team.
Mark these words: if Ridley coughs up the ball one more time in preseason — just once — there will be a shakeup in the Patriots’ depth chart at running back.