FOXBOROUGH – It will take some time for fans to grow familiar with the Patriots’ fresh crop of wide receivers like veterans Danny Amendola and Michael Jenkins and rookies Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce.
While the wide receiver depth chart is far from being set, there is a comforting certainty in the trio of returning running backs Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden.
The Patriots also added running back LeGarrette Blount in the offseason, but at the heart of the rushing core is Ridley – who rushed for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
“[Tom] Brady’s job at quarterback is to handle the passing game, us as running backs have to do it on the ground,” Ridley said after Saturday’s practice. “More pressure? Yeah there are some new faces out here, but for us we just have to continue to do what we’re doing. We can’t buy into the hype or what people are saying, we just have to go develop as a team.”
Of course, there are questions about how long it will take the Patriots’ new receivers to gel together. But Ridley and the Patriots aren’t listening.
“I hear about it, but you know how coach [Bill Belichick] says, we focus on us and what goes on in this facility,” Ridley said. “Between our team, we’re just going to go out and be the players that we are. We can’t really get caught up, because that’s when you can easily get distracted.”
Ridley also said that he doesn’t plan on getting distracted by a new rule that was implemented by the owners in the offseason, which prohibits running backs from delivering crown-of-the-helmet hits to defenders outside the tackle box.
Last season, in the AFC Championship game loss against the Baltimore Ravens, Ridley suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter when he broke through a hole, lowered his head and collided with safety Bernard Pollard. He did not return to the game.
This season, a play like that may draw a penalty flag.
“I’m going out there to play the game the way I play it,” Ridley said. “Hopefully I can do my best to stay safe and stay away from getting flagged for that penalty. But, I have to play football and I have to protect myself and I have to run hard.
“We have to get our pads down and get as low as we can to protect ourselves from defenders. If they call it, they call it.”
At Saturday’s practice, Ridley shouldered the majority of the carries and catches as Vereen and Bolden sat out most of the drills. Bolden also did not participate Friday.
But despite the bruising beatings running backs endure coupled with the limited availability of his running mates, Ridley said he doesn’t feel any pressure to stay healthy.
“It’s no pressure, my teammates are going to be sore,” he said. “It’s a week straight. Camp is brutal. If they have a little injury or something they’re going through, I think the coaches do their best job to take them out and put them in when they need to be and get a little rest.
“We just have to come out there and if the next time they get out there, they’re going to be right back to work. It won’t be long, I can’t be out there myself, I promise you.”