Ryan Claridge suffered through a tough rookie season. The fifth-round draft choice out of UNLV injured his shoulder early in training camp and missed the rest of the year, never playing a single down. Unfortunately for Claridge, that wasn't the worst thing that happened in his life over the past 12 months.
Claridge's brother, Travis, died of acute pneumonia in late February at the age of 27. The second-year linebacker met with the New England media for the first time since his brother's death on Thursday but understandably, he didn't want to discuss the situation at this time.
"I would appreciate it if we could just keep this football related," Claridge told the media. "It's a tough situation, so I just try to work out and stay busy."
Claridge is the unknown commodity at the linebacker position heading into the 2006 season. The Patriots are thin at linebacker and they're hoping that Claridge – who played in the 3-4 defense at UNLV – can come in and provide some depth behind the established starters. Claridge said that even though he has experience in the 3-4, the Patriots system isn't the same as the one they ran in college.
"It's a lot different here," he said. "Everyone's 3-4 is different. I'm just trying to get comfortable and learn the system."
Claridge spent most of his time rehabbing back in Las Vegas, so he wasn't around the team much last season. Basically, it's like he's starting his rookie season all over again but he's happy to be back in New England, where he can learn from some of the Patriots proven veterans.
"Just being around the guys, (Tedy) Brushi, (Larry) Izzo, Don Davis, I can see from a distance how they do things," Claridge said. "I'm an idiot if I don't follow those guys. What they do works and they know everything. I can take information from them every day. It's either you get it done or you don't. When we're working out, they're in there and there's no messing around. They're really focused, really serious and I'm trying to imitate them the best I can. Hopefully I can get better by doing that."
After all he's been through in the past year, Claridge is taking things one day at a time. At this point, he's just glad to be around his teammates again.
"I'm just looking forward to going out and being part of a team again," he said. "That's the thing I miss the most. We're all trying to help the team out in anyway we can and that's what I want to do. That's the bottom line."
It's hard to say what Claridge's role with the team will be this season because the Patriots coaching staff still hasn't seen a lot of him. How much he can contribute to the team in 2006 will be determined by how well he plays in training camp and in preseason games. As Claridge moves forward, he lives by the advice given to him by his late older brother.
"He told me your job right now is to get healthy," Claridge said. "That's it. You have no other job right now but to get your body in shape and be healthy. I think that's pretty good advice because what else am I going to do?"