After a rough 2013, Stevan Ridley’s knows he’s got his work cut out for him. (USA TODAY Images)

Patriots running back Stevan Ridley has certainly had two very different seasons in recent years.

In 2012 he finished with 290 carries for 1263 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns, both ranking him third in the AFC.  It was his best season to that point as a pro, and the stage certainly appeared to be set for him to improve on that in 2013.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out that way. Last season he carried the football 178 times for just 773 yards, having seen his playing time greatly diminished thanks to early season issues holding onto the football.  He fumbled four times total in 2013 and lost all four, including three times over the span of weeks 9-12, with one against Denver being returned 60-yards for a touchdown for the Broncos.

That saw him inactive against Houston in week 13.

When he was given another chance he certainly played better and hasn’t fumbled since, although at that point the offense shifted to LeGarrette Blount getting the lion’s share of the carries.

Blount has since departed via free agency, having signed with Pittsburgh back on March 28th.  That sets up a big opportunity for Ridley to once again reclaim his role as the starting running back and get back to the level he was at two seasons ago.  He’s in the final year of his contract, and his football future and his tenure as a Patriot will likely depend on how he performs this year.  Ridley knows he’ll need to be more careful with the football this time around, which is something he’s focused on doing heading into this season.

“I’ve just got to go out there and play football and hit it hard and run the ball out wide open,” Ridley told the Boston Herald this week.  “So I’ve just got to be the same player I’ve been to this point in time and just try to be mistake-free.”

Ridley was actually better down the stretch after he came back in terms of yards per carry last season.  Through the first 12 games he averaged 4.3 (135 carries for 576 yards), compared to 4.6 (43 carries for 197 yards) over the final four games.  Blount had the better numbers over that same span, finishing the final four games averaging six yards per carry with 59 carries for 354 yards and four touchdowns.

With Blount now wearing black and gold, Ridley at least will no longer have to worry about fighting with the departed running back for playing time this season as he tries to get his job back.

For now he knows that nothing is going to be handed to him and he’ll need to earn his way back into the lead role.  He’s ready to do what it takes, and he’s looking forward to the challenge.

“I fight for my job every day,” Ridley told the Herald.  “I don’t care who they bring in or the guys that are in the room. I’m going in there to compete, and I don’t think that anything is mine or I deserve anything.

“I want to work for everything I get. That’s the way of the world. Nobody is going to hand you anything. I don’t mind doing that. I’m just a country boy from the South. I enjoy hard work. So if that’s what it takes, that’s what I’m going to do.”