A year ago at this time Stevan Ridley was looking toward a major opportunity in his young career. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis having moved on to the Bengals, Ridley entered his second season with a chance for a much bigger role on New England's high powered offense.
Boy did Ridley take advantage of that opportunity. He went on to started 12 of the 16 games he played last fall as the Patriots lead back. He finished seventh in the NFL with 1,263 yards on 290 carries for a 4.4-yard average. And his 12 rushing scores tied for third among the league's top running backs.
Not a bad second impression for a guy who finished his rookie season with ball security issues and as a healthy scratch during the Patriots postseason push to the Super Bowl.
A year later Ridley is now well established as New England's top back, and it's a teammate who was actually drafted a round earlier in the 2011 draft who is on the cusp of a major career opportunity.
With Danny Woodhead having moved on to the Chargers via free agency, third-year former second-round pick Shane Vereen will have the chance to become the Patriots primary third-down/change-of-pace back in 2013.
Not only is Vereen well aware of the opportunity at hand – as he discussed in a recent interview on PFW in Progress on Patriots.com radio – but his draftmate and good friend Ridley sees it as well.
As a guy who took the bull by the horns in terms of his own opportunity, Ridley says that Vereen is ready to do the same this fall.
"I don't think Shane's any dummy. He realizes that we lost an awesome player in Danny Woodhead who really showed us the way to do things in every emphasis in the game of football," Ridley said this week following a Patriots OTA workout. "So for Shane for to see that guy leave and for his role to open up even more, I think he's going to jump on the moment and capture the moment. Shane's a hell of a player, man. I think he's going to be ready to go and I'm excited about it.
"It's two guys back there who came in together, me and Shane. Of course we push each other but we also have to motivate the other guys in the room. It's a room full of running backs ready to play. We just have to be the young leaders and keep our team going."
Vereen had 62 attempts for 251 yards and three scores last fall, compared to 76 for 301 and four for Woodhead. The difference in receptions was more distinct, as Vereen had just eight catches for 149 yards and a score, while Woodhead had 40 catches for 406 yards and three scores.
While there is a chance that veteran free agent addition Leon Washington – who has been very impressive in the two OTA workouts the media has had access to this spring – will be in the mix in the backfield, there is the possibility that the bulk of the 116 touches that went to Woodhead a year ago could now go to Vereen.
If last postseason is any indication – when Vereen exploded for three touchdowns in the divisional round win over the Texans – the young athletic back is ready to be an impact player on an offense that's undergoing a transition of sorts these days in Foxborough.
At least that's what his backfield buddy is expecting. And Ridley knows a little something about maximizing opportunities.
What do you expect from Vereen in 2013? Could he be a breakout star on the Patriots offense? Let us know with a comment below!