September 27, 2016

Undrafted And Locked Out: Rookie Free Agents Await The Call

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

Previous to 2011, NFL teams would follow up each draft by filling their rosters with undrafted free agents (UDFAs). Last year, for example, the Patriots ended up signing three UDFAs to the team: Kyle Love, Sergio Brown and Dane Fletcher.

After picking 254 total players his spring, NFL teams have refrained from contacting undrafted rookies due to the lockout. This has left hundreds of potential players who would normally get invited to rookie camp in limbo.

A previous PD column reviewed some UDFAs who would fit in New England. We decided to catch up with four of those players to get their perspective on this unusual off-season: Maine wide receiver Jeremy Kelley, Austin Peay running back Terrence Holt, Cal wide receiver Jeremy Ross and Colorado School of Mines defensive end Marc Schiechl.

Pre-Draft Hopes

Each player had varying expectations going into the draft. Kelley, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound receiver, said he felt optimistic. He had an impressive pro day that featured a 42-inch vertical leap and a 3.89-second 20-yard shuttle. Each mark would have placed him in the top three for NFL combine receivers.

“It was getting exciting,” Kelley said. “Momentum was continuing to build after my pro day performances, garnering some attention from a handful of teams. I think I had about 10 or 12 teams that had called me, the Patriots being one of them. I went from somebody who probably wasn’t on their radar to someone who had the potential to be a late round pick, and that was exciting.”

Holt, another small-school player, hoped that leading Austin Peay in rushing, receptions, and return yardage would get him noticed. “There were a couple of teams that talked to my agent that were calling my school, asking my coach what kind of player I was and what type of guy I was on and off the field,” he said.

Averaging 12.7 yards per punt return at Cal-Berkeley, Ross thought he’d get a look in the sixth or seventh round. “I think I prepared as best as I could. I worked my butt off getting ready for the draft, getting ready for the workouts and pro days and stuff like that. You know, I laid it all on the table, and I felt like I got the most I could out of myself going in.”

Ross took a visit to Green Bay and had workouts with the Niners, Raiders and the Patriots. He also talked with several other teams.

Colorado School of Mines defensive end Marc Schiechl

Though Schiechl set the Division II career record for sacks (46), he understood that NFL teams might overlook him due to his level of competition. “I just kind of went into the draft assuming that I wouldn’t be drafted, just so I wouldn’t have my hopes up. And I knew, you know, either way – sixth (round), seventh, undrafted – either way I’m going to have to make the team. So it really doesn’t matter where I went or how I made the team, because I’m still going to have to prove myself regardless.”

Schiechl worked out for the Colts and estimated that 12 to 14 teams talked to him before the draft, including the Patriots.

Adversity

Despite their hard work and potential, no calls came from NFL teams. Each player had something working against him going into draft weekend. All except Ross attended small schools. Ross suffered from a lack of production his senior year, as did Kelley.

Holt, at 5-7, is no stranger to getting overlooked.

“When I didn’t get picked,” Holt said, “I knew from the lockout that things wouldn’t go how I thought they would go, but I knew that something would give pretty soon. And I hope that I get picked up by a team if the lockout is over.”

Watching Cal teammates Cameron Jordan and Shane Vereen get drafted gave Ross some mixed emotions. “I was really happy for those guys, but you know, I had myself on my mind also,” Ross said. “(But) at that moment, I was like, man, that’s cool.”

In terms of Vereen going to New England, Ross said, “I felt like it fits him, with the Patriots. It fits his character, and I could really see him being in that organization. That’s a perfect fit for him. And they’ll use him well, I know they will.”

After Ross didn’t get picked, he said, “I felt a little discouraged at first, you know, because I got my hopes up. It was something I was expecting, something I wanted to see happen. I thought it would have been a good experience, a good feeling to be picked up, to be chosen, to be wanted. But that didn’t happen, so I was a little discouraged.”

Ross said he got some positive advice from friends. “They helped me see the benefit of being a free agent at this moment, as far as being able to have the opportunity to now choose the situation I’m going into… So I feel like, in some way, I’m kind of at an advantage. It actually worked out better for me, rather than getting drafted in the sixth or seventh.”

“I wasn’t really discouraged, because I was still aware that it was a long shot,” said Kelley. “But I was expecting a call, to be honest. So I wouldn’t say disappointment, by any means, just kind of more fuel to the fire. I’ve seen adversity… It just kind of keeps me in that underdog mentality, when I do get to a camp, that I’m going to make a name for myself. Whether it be special teams, whether I play offense or whatever it may be. That’s just the way I see it. It just kind of turns into motivation to be successful.”

Though he had little expectation of getting drafted, Schiechl’s potential position change brought up questions that no team could answer until he got into a camp. “I wasn’t too sure, because I knew with the lockout and everything that there wasn’t going to be free agency. That was really, to me, the only benefit of being drafted, was to know where I would go and whether I was going to be a 4-3 end or a 3-4 outside linebacker. That was probably the biggest thing that worried me, but you know, I just have to keep training and wait for this to end.”

Working It Out

All players have continued their regimens throughout this downtime, staying prepared for any opportunities that may arise.

Holt finished up his semester at Austin Peay before returning home to Nashville. Both Ross and Schiechl remain on their respective campuses.

Kelley is home in Buffalo, which has proven beneficial. His father runs a soccer complex (Sahlen’s Sports Park) where he has been working out with dozens of Buffalo Bills. Kelley’s friend from the area, Bills special teams ace John Corto, helped organize these sessions upon Kelley’s suggestion.

“Not a lot of free agents are in my position. You know, I’m actually working out with an NFL team and getting that experience. To live five minutes from an NFL squad is definitely a blessing, given the circumstances and the conditions of the lockout,” Kelley said.

Ross just graduated from Cal last weekend. He heads to the stadium every day to work out with his strength and conditioning coach. “Just training there, staying in shape, and just kind of waiting it out, getting ready for this thing to end.”

Schiechl remains on campus at CSM but plans to head home in a week or two. He trains with Loren Landow at the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic in Englewood, Colorado. Several Denver Broncos have joined the workouts. “(Loren) has a lot of guys from other NFL teams that he’s training right now, just keeping us in shape, trying to simulate the amount of activity that we’d have if we were in a mini-camp,” said Schiechl. “So if anything does get ready to go, we’re heading into it already in good shape – we don’t have to play catch-up or anything like that.”

Holt is running and working out every day. He has a couple of tryouts lined up with the UFL and CFL, just to keep his options open. “I’m pretty sure every player’s dream is to go to the NFL,” Holt said. “But guys like me, with football, they’re real passionate: they would want to play somewhere and get paid for it. So the UFL and the CFL are great options for that.”

Outlook

Each player seems to understand the unpredictable nature of his situation, yet each tries to remain optimistic. “It is frustrating about this whole situation, just thinking if I was out here last year, I probably would be in a camp right now,” said Kelley. “But, you know, take it for what it is.”

Taking tips from Bills receiver Lee Evans and catching passes from QB Ryan Fitzpatrick have put Kelley in what he calls the “best situation possible.” His agents have also helped his confidence. “They’ve made it clear that I will be in a camp. Not only that, they think that I have a shot at playing next year, and they’ve expressed that to me multiple times. They really believe that. I really believe that, so I really can’t ask for much more from agents.”

Holt is a small player from a small school, but he says that his stature has helped him prepare for the challenge. “Since I’ve been playing football at the age of five, I’ve really always been one of the smallest guys on the field. But when you’ve got technique – if you and a guy have the same type of talent, but my technique is better – then I win the fight every time. It’s just the fight in the person, and how hard they want to accomplish something. So I always have to prove myself, being a smaller person, and by proving myself, then I feel that I have overcome that task.”

In terms of the NFL labor situation, Holt said he can’t do much beyond waiting to see what happens. “I still have hope. I pray every day that somebody will pick me up. I know it’s getting real strenuous because of the lockout going on right now, and everybody thinks that the lockout will go on, but I’ve still got hope and I think something will give for me.”

For now, Ross called the lockout a wait-and-see situation. “I’m just kind of really focusing on the things I can control. Basically, I’m like, when it unlocks, it unlocks, and I’ll be ready when it does. The only thing I can control at this point is myself, and training to make sure I’m ready to go when that time comes.”

In some ways, Schiechl epitomizes this rookie draft class. He knows what it takes to improve as a player, and he has used all of his talents – including his experience as a high school wrestler – to do so. “Coming out of high school, I was only 6-1, 185 my senior year,” said the currently 6-2, 255-pound pass-rusher. “So, I mean, I was really undersized, and I played D-end my senior year. There were a lot of receivers out there bigger than me, so that’s probably why I wasn’t recruited.”

Given his strength and stats, Schiechl believes he can complete the journey from a lightly-recruited D-II player to the NFL. Like the hundreds of other undrafted players, though, he needs the lockout to end.

“I just can’t see it not getting resolved,” he said. “I think there’s too much at stake for football, and too much money involved with it, that I can’t see it not happening. And I’m pretty confident that once it starts back up I’m going to get a chance with someone, so I’m not too worried about it. I just hope it happens soon.”

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Patriots Daily Wicked Premature Roster Count

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

Unlike past seasons where NFL teams could bring in rookie free agents, hold camps, and give their fans a general idea of what they might think of their personnel, 2011 has provided a unique opportunity for roster rationalists.

Below, we give our rundown of where we think New England’s lineup should reside come September.

OFFENSE

RUNNING BACKS (4) – Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley

What’s new: Bill Belichick makes more cold calculations than an Arctic physicist, and this practice causes him to cut veteran Kevin Faulk. Fresh faces Vereen and Ridley replace old-timey vets Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Robert Hughes (FB), Notre Dame.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6) – Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, Matthew Slater

What’s new: Not much, to the chagrin of most Patriots fans looking to draft a speedy downfield threat. We’d like to take Slater off this list, mostly because in three seasons he has exactly as many NFL receptions as I do (i.e., zip). Still, special teams work keeps him here.

With his age and injury history, Branch seems most likely to get replaced by a free agent pickup.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Jeremy Ross, Cal.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9) – Dan Koppen, Sebastian Vollmer, Logan Mankins, Nate Solder, Mark LeVoir, Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell, Nick Kaczur, Quinn Ojinnaka

What’s new: More youth! Stephen Neal retired. In our most noteworthy move so far, we’re letting go of Matt Light. This puts a lot of pressure on the rookie Solder, but giving him experience at left tackle gets the team primed for the playoffs. Kaczur’s experience inside and out gives him value. Rookie guard Marcus Cannon starts the season on the PUP list.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Jake Kirkpatrick, TCU.

TIGHT ENDS (4) – Rob Gronkowski, Alge Crumpler, Aaron Hernandez, Lee Smith

What’s new: The rookie Smith bolsters a crew that probably didn’t need a lot of bolstering, but 2010’s offense can maintain its formidable versatility through the tight ends. Crumpler stays as the veteran wrangler of the baby TEs.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Schuylar Oordt, Northern Iowa

QUARTERBACKS (3) – Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett

What’s new: Bill Belichick has kept only two QBs for too long; the rookie/perceived nitwit Mallett comes on as a future starter-in-training. No new player will get more closely analyzed this preseason – and no one else will deserve that scrutiny more.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M

Total Offense: 26

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE LINE (8) – Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Marcus Stroud, Eric Moore, Brandon Deaderick, Kyle Love, Ron Brace, Mike Wright

What’s new: We considered starting Mike Wright on the PUP list, only because his inability to recover from a head injury last season scares the bejeebus out of us. Saying hello to veteran Stroud makes us say goodbye to Gerard Warren. We’re hoping for continued improvement from Deaderick and Brace while also hoping that Moore’s production continues beyond one-year-wonder status.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Elisha Joseph, Temple.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) – Tully Banta-Cain, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Markell Carter

What’s new: If rookie Carter provides anything remotely resembling a pass rush, fans will have to feel pleased with the sixth-rounder. Meanwhile, the much-publicized, much-hoped-for Year Two Bump needs to happen for Cunningham. Moore can also put in some work here.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Marc Schiechl, Colorado School of Mines

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) – Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Gary Guyton, Dane Fletcher

What’s new: Nothing, which looks fine to us. We liked the addition of Fletcher’s athleticism in 2010. If Spikes can avoid the banned pharmaceuticals (not what most of us thought), this crew should have a hell of a year.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Mark Herzlich, Boston College

CORNERBACKS (5) – Leigh Bodden, Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Darius Butler, Ras-I Dowling

What’s new: The Jonathan Wilhite experience ends as the rookie Dowling comes in for playing time, relegating Arrington and Butler to backup/rotational duty. Not too shabby.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Darrin Walls, Notre Dame

SAFETIES (3) – Patrick Chung, James Sanders, Jarrad Page

What’s new: The Pro Bowl pedigree might not keep Brandon Meriweather around, so here’s hoping Chung and Sanders are up to the task. Page stays over Sergio Brown for his special teams prowess. We see rookie Malcolm Williams starting the season on the practice squad.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Jeron Johnson, Boise State

Total Defense: 24

SPECIAL TEAMS (3) – Stephen Gostkowski (K), Zoltan Mesko (P), Matt Katula (LS)

What’s new: Gostkowski’s back and as good as ever, we hope. We don’t remember calling Katula’s name last year, which is all we ask. Mesko’s around for the foreseeable future, to the joy of his fan club.

Rookie free agent worth looking at: Tom Mante, punter and kickoff specialist, Yale

Questions, comments, tirades? Let us know in the comment space below.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

 

Patriots Daily Q&A With Malcolm Williams

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

When New England took Malcolm Williams in the seventh round (219 overall), quite a few draft followers were surprised. That group included Williams himself.

The Texas Christian defensive back played two seasons for the Horned Frogs at safety and cornerback. A successful pro day put him on the NFL radar.

This past weekend, Williams spoke to PD about his unusual route to Foxboro, what he hopes to bring to the team, and his TCU teammate and fellow Patriots rookie Marcus Cannon.

Let’s talk about the draft and where you were when you heard that New England had picked you.

Patriots 7th Round Pick Malcolm Williams

Actually, me, my wife and my daughter, we were at the house, and we were watching Netflix. We weren’t really watching – I was keeping up with the draft on my phone, but we weren’t watching on TV. About pick 216, 217, Bill Belichick called me and he let me know that I was a part of the Patriot family.

So I was just chilling in the living room… I really wasn’t expecting it; I was just waiting on a lot of my friends to go who are also in the draft. I wasn’t expecting a call, and they gave me a shout. It was just – it was crazy.

Since then, have you talked to them? Have you gotten a sense of what they liked about you to pick you in the seventh?

Oh, no. The only contact I had with them was the day of the draft. That’s the last little bit of contact I had with them.

So, had you had any contact with the Patriots or any other teams prior to the draft?

No. I just heard word that the Texans were looking at me and the Patriots were looking at me. That’s really all I heard word of. But other than that, no.

Well, speaking of Texas, it seems like your journey to the pros was kind of unusual. Why don’t you talk a little bit about starting out at – is it South View Prairie?

South Grand Prairie, yeah.

South Grand Prairie, and your trip eventually to TCU and in the end to Foxboro?

Well, I started out at South Grand Prairie as a sophomore, and I played my sophomore, junior, senior year up there in football. And my senior year, I ended up becoming a 5A Defensive Player of the Year for the state of Texas… And then, I had a scholarship to Oklahoma – that’s who I ended up signing with out of high school was OU. I failed this thing called the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge Skills) test we have down here, it’s the entry-level test for the high school. So in the summer of ’07 I got my GED and enrolled at the junior college, so I sat the ’06 season out. I worked at the DFW airport.

Wow.

I worked there for six months. I was a bar back up there… The first few months, I didn’t know what I was going to do, because after I failed that last TAKS test, I was just stuck. I had to end up moving back home with my mom, and I went ahead and got me a job.

And Brad Smiley from Trinity Valley Community College, he gave me a call, and he was like, “I heard you don’t have a family.” And I said not right now. He said you have a family up here in Trinity Valley. And he explained to me what it was, where it was, Athens, Texas. So that’s how I ended up signing with Trinity Valley Community College to play my JUCO ball.

So you were working as a bar back at a bar at Dallas Fort Worth airport?

Yeah. From January until about June when I enrolled at summer school at Trinity Valley of ’07.

What was your day like? You just – were you working out? Were you planning on a future in football? What were you thinking?

Oh, I always worked out. I had a membership to a 24-hour fitness club, so I was always constantly working out. That call just came out of nowhere, at a time that it was really needed. Because I really didn’t know what I was going to do… I ended up at Trinity Valley, and from there, (Coach) Jarett Anderson from TCU, he was recruiting me, and he came up and got me into TCU.

I played two years there, mostly special teams. I didn’t play much defense, because I switched from safety my junior year to corner my senior year. It was learning back and forth, and I had people who were not necessarily more athletic than me, but more experienced, who knew the defense more. That’s why I didn’t get very much playing time at defense, but I did what I had to do on special teams, and I worked really hard and trained for my TCU pro day. I did pretty well at that, and that’s what I think I (got) drafted off of, pretty much.

When you were training for the pro day, was there any particular aspect of those drills that you were preparing for, or just everything in general?

Oh, it was just everything in general. Mostly, though, our strength and conditioning coach said the thing you need to worry about is your 40 (yard dash). Just get your 40 down. Your 40 needs to be low to be successful at the next level… So that’s what we worked on mostly, our 40s, our starts and just speed in general.

Do you think learning both safety and corner has helped you understand defense better overall?

Oh, yes sir. Most definitely. Because when I played safety, I would give a call out to the corner and really not know what he was doing until I moved to corner. Then, when that safety gave me a call, I was like, okay, it all comes into play right now. I see how it works. So, yeah, it does help me, playing safety one year and then corner the next year. It helped me out and helped me understand the defense more.

How do you – I know it’s tough to answer, because you haven’t really spoken to anybody – but what do you see as your role at the next level?

Wherever Bill Belichick wants me to play, I want to play. If he just wants me to run down on kickoffs and make tackles, hey, I’m going to do that. It doesn’t matter. If he wants me to block on punts, even return a punt, return a kickoff, block on kickoff: it doesn’t matter, wherever they put me. I’m a football player. I just want to play wherever, it doesn’t matter. Whatever my role is, then I’m going to fulfill it to the max.

Before you got the call from New England, you weren’t expecting to be drafted. Did you have a plan for afterward? Were you going to wait for calls, or maybe look at other leagues?

Well, throughout the whole process, me and my dad were looking for CFL tryouts or UFL tryouts, and I ended up attending three CFL tryouts and one UFL tryout. I did pretty well at that, so I was expecting if the draft didn’t work out, then I knew I’d get a call from one of these CFL teams because I did pretty well at all the combines I went to.

I mean, I had a Plan A and B going pretty well for me. It just so happens Plan A worked out. (Laughs.) I got drafted. So, I’m pretty happy about that.

Now, I know you were defense and Marcus Cannon was offense, but what can you tell Patriots fans about your new New England teammate?

Oh, Marcus Cannon, he’s a leader, he’s a hard worker. He’s going to work hard at all times. And he has his moments where he can be a big kid, but at the same time, he has his serious moments. He’s a fun character. There’s really nothing negative I can say about him – all positive stuff. So I’m just looking forward to playing with him again.

Excellent. That’s great. Well, I’m looking forward to seeing you up there, Malcolm. I hope it happens soon.

All right. Thank you.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Pats Post-Draft Scenarios: Undrafted Wish List

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

Unlike past seasons where NFL teams could seek out undrafted players to fill out their camp rosters, rookie free agents have to sit and wait for the lockout to end.

Below we’ve listed some of those unpicked prospects whom we’d like to see get a shot in Foxboro.

Mark Herzlich, Boston College LB – Unbelievable that no team would spend even a seventh-round pick on this guy. He’s big (6-4, 245) and strong (29 bench reps of 225 pounds) and has been a stalwart on BC’s defense (65 tackles, four interceptions in 2010).

Having beaten cancer, you’d think he’d get a shot on his story alone. But Herzlich’s no pity pick: whatever team he decides to go to will be lucky to have him. Here’s hoping he finds a home at Foxboro this fall.

Jeremy Kelley, Maine WR/ST – Definitely something intriguing about this local athlete, a 6-6, 225-pound receiver who got on the field any way possible, from special teams to pass-rusher. His foot speed (6.60-second 3-cone drill) and suddenness (10-11 broad jump, 42-inch vertical) could get him into an NFL camp. We’d enjoy watching him at Gillette.

Marc Schiechl, Colorado School of Mines OLB – Schiechl gets the Dane Fletcher undrafted nod as the western school defensive end who absolutely killed at his pro day. The 6-2, 252-pound outside linebacker prospect had 38 bench reps and a 35-inch vertical, showing the athleticism that should get him an extra look from scouts.

Jeremy Ross, Cal WR – The Pats drafted his teammate Shane Vereen, and should take a shot at Ross. The receiver has good size at 6-0, 207 pounds, good speed with a 4.45 40, and good special teams prowess, leading Cal in punts. Productive, athletic and smart all have to be worth something, right?

Terrence Holt of Autin Peay

Terrence Holt, Austin Peay RB/RS – We first called Holt’s name in our Superlatives column as the Lil’ Danny Woodhead Award winner. The 5-8, 185-pound pocketknife led the Governors in rushing, receiving and returning. At the very least, that kind of production could make him a versatile addition to New England’s practice squad.

Cedric Thornton, Southern Arkansas DT – Considering the Pats went through defensive linemen last year the way I go through movie popcorn (and believe you me, that’s quick), Thornton (6-3, 310) could bolster the D-line. In eight games last year Thornton had 52 tackles, including 13 for losses.

Jake Kirkpatrick, TCU C – He’s not huge (6-2, 300) nor Herculean (25 bench reps), but Kirkpatrick is consistent. His winning the Rimington Award for the nation’s best college center says all we need to know.

Jeron Johnson, Boise State FS – The 5-10, 212-pound Johnson led Boise State in tackles for the past three years and started 44 games over his Broncos career. Though not the fastest, he put up a respectable 4.5-second 40.

Darrin Walls, Notre Dame CB – Walls had the type of pro day that will get him onto an NFL practice field. Why not New England’s?

He submitted a 4.42 40, a 6.88 3-cone drill, and 10-2 broad jump. With the success of former Irish safety Sergio Brown coming onto the club as a rookie free agent last year, the Patriots must be looking Walls’ way.

Any players whose names went uncalled on draft weekend you’d like to see at Gillette? Please let us know below.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Patriots Daily Q&A With Stevan Ridley

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

New England took LSU running back Stevan Ridley in the third round, 73rd overall. The 225-pound back looks to complement the Patriots’ versatile stable of ball carriers.

Ridley had a breakout 2010, gaining over 1,100 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns. His success compelled him to declare for the NFL draft after his junior year.

Third Round Pick Stevan Ridley

In his interview with PD, Ridley discussed his decision to declare early, his consistent impressions of the Patriots, and a certain position he will not be playing at Gillette this fall.

Tell me about your decision to leave early. It certainly seemed to pay off, and I wonder what went into that decision?

Oh, you know, I really had to weigh it out, man. I looked at it, how much it would benefit me to come back and play another year at LSU. The thing is, I’m a redshirt junior, so I played four years at LSU. If I was to come back next year and really try to up my stock, you know, and get my value that much higher, I’d have to have a 1,400 or 1,500 yard season. Everyone knows that LSU has been known for rotating backs since way back. They always rotate running backs, there are always three or four backs in the backfield. My chances of getting the carries I need to get for a 1,400 or 1,500 yard season to make me a for-sure first-rounder – the chances of that are kind of slim… And also, what happened to (former LSU running back) Charles Scott the last year, going out and getting hurt, then going from a second- or third-rounder to a free agent.

So, there’s always a risk coming back for your senior year. It was just a gamble that I didn’t want to take. You know, my stock was high enough. I had a draft projection, and I ended up going in the third round, and I was satisfied with that. It’s not about where you get in, it’s what you do once you get in the league.

Maybe something the scouts were wary about is that you really didn’t have much production (overall), but you didn’t really get much of a chance. Do you think that’s a credit to the backs ahead of you, or do you think you’re a much better back now than you were a year ago?

Oh, I think I’m a much better back than I was a few years ago, because I didn’t get the opportunities I felt I should have, you know what I mean? It was just – everybody thinks that they’re going to come in and play right away. That’s what everybody says when they come into the program: “I’m going to go in there and start; I’m going to go in there and play.” But in reality, it’s all about timing. You have to know that playbook. You have to be comfortable in that playbook and know everything that’s going on. And once you do that, you put yourself into that playbook all the way. You know everything about it.

So, it was just all about timing. The right time for me was when I was getting to know that system. I had to buy into that, and I hated waiting it out and doing that, but I think it made me a better runner because when I got my chance, I made the most of my opportunities.

I’m wondering what you’ve been able to learn about the Patriots offense and what you’re able to do there?

I really haven’t learned much because they can’t give us any playbooks or anything like that during the lockout period. I really haven’t had that much time to get into the playbook or even have a chance to look at it. I do know they’re going to need a downhill back, someone to come in there and help out with their running game. They’ve got some veterans in there. Kevin Faulk came from LSU. They’ve got a backfield full. There’s a running back in front of me, so there’s going to be a lot of backs in there battling it out for playing time this year.

What were your impressions of the Patriots before the draft, and what are your impressions now?

It’s kind of the same. You know, the Patriots are a winning program. That’s somewhere where they’re expected to be deep in the playoffs or in the Super Bowl every year. So I know if I can go up there and play and produce, I’ve got a good chance to win a Super Bowl, man. It’s just – that’s part of going to the Patriots and playing with arguably the best quarterback in the NFL right now. Coach Belichick is an awesome coach, and I’m going to a wonderful system.

I mean, going from LSU to New England, I couldn’t ask for any better fit. I think the expectations are probably equally high in both places. Because at LSU, the fans aren’t happy unless we’re winning a national championship every year, and in New England, they’re expecting Super Bowls. So, I know I have to go up there and work hard in whatever I do, in whatever role they ask me to fill in New England.

Speaking of LSU, was that your main college? Was that the big school you were looking at?

Oh, definitely. Definitely, because they were the most successful. You know, they won. I wanted to come to a winning team. I wanted to come somewhere where I had a chance to win a national championship, and I fell into a national championship my freshman year.

And what’s that like?

I mean, it just kind of installed a hunger in me. Winning a national championship as a freshman, I really didn’t play that much, but I watched guys like Jacob Hester and Matt Flynn and Quinn Johnson, people like that going in and producing and leading our team – Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson – those are the types of guys that you have to have in order to win a championship.

I think that’s what I’m going into with the Patriots. I’m falling into a system where they have a lot of veterans in key positions, and they know what it takes to win championships up in New England.

Now, in high school, you played a lot of different positions. Is that correct?

Yeah, in high school, man, I played pretty much everywhere. For me, I think that’s what really helped me out in my career to where I’m at now, because I was so versatile. In high school, I had to play quarterback, running back, receiver. I played linebacker; I played safety. I played nose guard early on. You know, playing at a small school, a lot of people said that would hurt me, but I really think it helped me. It kept my body fresh. I did not get all that wear and tear on my body in high school. Then in college, to get one full year playing in the SEC, that helped me out also, not having the beating and the wear and tear there.

I really am – I’m in a good position going into the NFL to go up there and, hopefully, just have a long career. But I know that can’t happen unless I prepare myself and really buy into that system.

So, after playing quarterback, it looks like you’re going to probably be running the Wildcat for the Patriots, right?

(Laughs.) I wouldn’t say that much. I don’t think the Patriots have a Wildcat in their playbook at all. I mean, with Tom Brady in there, I think it’s really just a blessing to be able to fall in with a quality quarterback like that. I don’t think they’re going to need me for the Wildcat.

Where were you when you found out you got drafted?

I was actually at home. We were having a cookout with the family and some of my close friends. My high school coach came, and also some of my high school teammates, my family from Jackson and Georgia. And also my family that’s in Natchez, Mississippi. I mean, everybody was there. My dad came down from Chicago. It was a good time for my family and also for me to really enjoy that moment and that turn in my career.

That’s excellent. Well, welcome to New England. I hope you get a chance to get up here soon.

I appreciate it. I appreciate it.

Fans can check out Ridley’s Facebook page at facebook.com/stevanridley or his Twitter account at twitter.com/stevanridley.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Pats Draft Review: No Rush To Judgment

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

Okay, kids. A quick review of this year’s draft haul.

ROUND ONE: (17) Nate Solder, Colorado OT

Second Round Pick Ras-I Dowling (#19)

ROUND TWO: (33) Ras-I Dowling, Virginia CB; (56) Shane Vereen, Cal RB

ROUND THREE: (73) Stevan Ridley, LSU RB; (74) Ryan Mallett, Arkansas QB

ROUND FIVE: (138) Marcus Cannon, TCU OG; (159) Lee Smith, Marshall TE

ROUND SIX: (194) Markell Carter, Central Arkansas OLB

ROUND SEVEN: (219) Malcolm Williams, TCU DB

WHAT’S GREAT: In and of itself (a phrase to remember), the drafting of Solder can help the team for years to come. He’s huge (over 6-foot-8) and has the athleticism of a former hoops player. If he can pick up the offense and strengthen his upper body, he’ll prove himself as the right pick.

We’re also high on Vereen. He’s compact and strong (31 bench reps at the combine). During interviews, he said he prides himself on his pass protection, which we’re sure Tom Brady enjoyed hearing. Though he projects as a third-down specialist, his versatility makes him a threat on every down.

WHAT’S GOOD: New England needed another big back, and – even if he was taken a round or two higher than expected – Ridley fits well in a complementary role. We worry about his limited carries at LSU before 2010, but we can’t argue with a 225-pound back who gained 1,147 yards this past season vs. SEC defenses.

Dowling fell down draft boards due to an injury-prone 2010. Again, in and of itself, getting a top DB with the 33rd pick seems like a solid move. We also know Bill Belichick got the ultimate scouting report from his pal, former Virginia coach Al Groh.

Though it might take some time to witness Cannon’s on-field ability before he addresses his medical concerns, we like drafting him for myriad reasons. The Brobdingnagian brawler (6-5, 358 pounds) should be able to make a path through opposing defenses. His current situation (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) stinks, but he has a 90 percent chance of recovery. The Patriots did the proper thing here.

MEH: We don’t know how much Smith can bring to the team, unless Belichick is subtly encouraging veteran tight end Alge Crumpler to explore other NFL cities (a plan we do not endorse). Smith might end up as a contributor, but we’d hate to mess with the best tight end combo the Patriots have had in recent memory.

Williams is a clear case of the Patriots wanting to get a potential rookie free agent into camp because the lockout prevents them from signing undrafted players. He has been described as “another Matthew Slater.” We’re not sure how to feel about that.

Carter did some damage as a defensive end in college (19 tackles for loss in 2010). We like his size (6-4, 252) and his production for the Bruins; we’re just not sure how it translates to the NFL level. It does give us a bit of hope that Central Arkansas alum Jacob Ford has had some success with the Titans (15.5 sacks in three years).

Hey, who knows? Carter could become the best pass-rusher on the team. Speaking of which…

WHAT’S CONFUSING: Hmm, let’s see. I knew there was something I wanted to… HOW ABOUT DRAFTING A TOP PASS RUSHER? HUH? WHY NOT DRAFT A PROVEN SACK GUY FOR ONCE? WHAT DO WE HAVE TO DO?

HELLO? IS THIS THING ON?

Sorry, sorry. Had to get that out of my system. Let’s just say that if Adrian Clayborn, Cameron Jordan, Jabaal Sheard or Brooks Reed end up with double-digit sacks this season, the words “value” and “draft” should only be used to promote two-for-one beer night.

We’re also confused by the Mallett selection. With his past drug use and rumors of poor behavior, he doesn’t seem like a Patriots guy.

We’re not saying he can’t be a good player or that he can’t turn himself around; we’re just pointing out that it seems weird.

WHAT’S TERRIBLE: Actually, nothing. Nothing looks terrible in this draft. From top to bottom, it’s fine. Perfectly fine.

And there lies the problem.

This was the year where the Patriots seemed lined up to wheel and deal for the now; instead, they prepared for 2012 and beyond.

By doing so, they raised questions about 2011.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]