Stevan Ridley has a lot to prove in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)

(This is the first in a series of individual player spotlights over the next few weeks leading up to training camp. We’ll have several each day, so check back frequently as we go down the roster. ¬†This edition focuses on Patriots running back Stevan Ridley:)

2013 Summary: Last season was certainly a forgettable year for Patriots running back Stevan Ridley, but years from now he may look back on it as one of the more important seasons, and lessons, of his career.

Coming off of a season where he finished with 1263 yards rushing, the 4th highest single season total in franchise history, Ridley was riding a pretty good wave heading into the team’s opener out in Buffalo to kick off 2013. ¬†After taking an early 10-0 lead against the Bills early in the game, the Patriots were off to a great start and seemed poised to easily dispose of a team they’ve had their way with for most of the last decade. ¬†But Ridley committed his first turnover of the season just minutes into the second quarter after he lost the football at the Bills’ 25-yard line, and safety Da’Norris Searcy picked it up and took it 74 yards the other way for a touchdown for Buffalo.

That game was a bad omen for Ridley and a sign of things to come. Overall he had a rough year in 2013, fumbling four times, all resulting in turnovers. ¬†Three of them came while he was carrying the football, and another came¬†after a reception. ¬†Ridley’s¬†last¬†miscue came against the Broncos in Week 12 where he coughed up the football at the Denver 40, and Von Miller took it 60 yards the other way for a touchdown to put Denver up 7-0 and he watched the remainder of that come-from-behind win by New England from the sidelines.

However, after sitting out against Houston the following week, Ridley managed to turn things around. ¬†He¬†carried 43 times for 197 yards over the final four¬†games, as well as 19 times for 69 yards and two touchdowns during the postseason. ¬†He’s actually got a pretty good streak going at this point, and has carried 62 straight times¬†without losing the football heading into 2014.

Best game of 2013:

Ridley’s best performance came in week six during the team’s incredible last-second win over the Saints. ¬†In that game he carried the football 20 times for 96 yards and two touchdowns. ¬†It wasn’t his highest yardage output (that came in week 9 against the Steelers where he finished with 115 yards and also two touchdowns), but he finished that game turnover-free in one of his better all-around performances of 2013. ¬†One play he made was a fourteen yard reception on a 2nd-and-14 following a 4-yard loss on first down by LeGarrette Blount early in the second quarter. ¬†That play helped move the chains and extend the drive, and resulted in a touchdown which at the time put New England up 17-7.

Notable Stat of 2013:

Ridley actually improved on an area that the team seemingly hoped Blount, being the bigger running back of the two, would fix for them.  Down on the goal line in 2012 Ridley carried 10 times for -1 yards but had 4 touchdowns, having been stopped for no gain twice and losing yards four times.  In 2013 he carried five times for three touchdowns, a much better success rate than he had the year before.

What to Watch For in 2014: 

It’s pretty obvious that Patriots running back Stevan Ridley is facing a critical campaign¬†heading into 2014, and this may be one of the most important training camps of his young career.

The running back position is one of the more competitive ones heading into training camp, with Ridley suddenly among a crowded group of players vying to line up behind Tom Brady this season.   The team currently has seven players on the roster, with Brandon Bolden, Roy Finch, Jonas Gray, Stephen Houston, Shane Vereen, and James White rounding out what should be an interesting competition over the next month.

In the end one would believe that when the dust settles, Ridley will be in the final running back mix when the season starts. ¬†However, after what transpired last season, his margin for error will likely be slim. It’s worth noting that Bill Belichick stood by him through the year and never completely gave up on him, but Ridley has to know that he’ll need to be better this time around. Hopefully 2014 will see him make last season nothing more than a rough learning experience that will make him better moving forward.