Ridley back doing job he "loves"

After being away from the game of football for over a year, Stevan Ridley is ready to return to doing the job he "loves"

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FLORHAM PARK: The script is one Hollywood may have a hard time accepting. 'Too unreal,' any major movie producer would say; 'could never happen in real life,' another may chirp. 

But as Jets running back Stevan Ridley stood by his locker Thursday afternoon, smiling ear-to-ear and talking to reporters for the first time since he returned to practice, that very same sure-to-be-turned-down script is his everyday life. After a long, grueling rehabilitation, he's back, and ready to potentially make his season debut with his new team, against his former team. 

"The story couldn't be written any better," Ridley said. 

Over a year ago, on Oct. 12, 2014 to be exact, the then-New England Patriots running back took a handoff from Tom Brady and began to make his way up the field against the Buffalo Bills. Running lateral to the line, a defender cut inside and dove at Ridley's lower legs. With his leg planted in the turf, the hit bent Ridley's knee the wrong way. He immediately collapsed to the ground, and trainers rushed to his side. Laying face down, Ridley worked himself up before pounding the ground with a fist. He knew it wasn't good, and an MRI the next day confirmed it was about as bad as it could be:

Ridley had torn both his ACL and MCL. His season was over, and his future in doubt. 

With last season Ridley's contract year, the back entered free agency with more questions surrounding him than answers. Not only had he been plagued by fumbling issues during his four-year Patriots career, but now he was in the middle of intense rehabilitation process and coming off a serious knee injury. Would he ever be the same? 

The Patriots bet not, and never made a serious effort to bring Ridley back to Foxborough. So, he began his free agency tour.

He went down to Miami to check out the Dolphins, then flew to Florham Park the next day. A week later, Ridley signed a one-year contract with the Jets. While he's as thrilled now as he was back then to be in New York, he hasn't forgotten the team that let him walk. 

"You can put it on the business side of things" Ridley said, "You can put it on whatever you want to put it on, but it's in the bank of motivation for me. (The Patriots) were a team I was on, that's a team I was connected to, and I'm no longer there. So guess what? I'm with my new team now, my new boys, man. I'm with a new team that's doing tremendous."

When Ridley put pen-to-paper on his contract with the Jets, there were four sides at play that had varying opinions on when he'd actually take the field. There were the doctors, the coaches, the competitor in Ridley and then his own common sense. Ridley's competitive nature wanted to be on the field that same day; the doctors, coaches and Ridley's common sense knew it was going to be a process. He needed to rehab in order to get back to the player he once was. Playing in the season opener was a possibility, but likely not a realistic one.

The more likely scenario involved one where Ridley sat out organized team activities and training camp. Come the regular season, the back would be placed on the physically unable to perform list, a move that would sideline him the season's first six weeks. In that time, trainers could ensure Ridley was A-OK to return to the field, and not being rushed. 

Competitive Ridley hated that scenario, but his common sense knew that was the best course of action. So, the Jets took their time with Ridley. 

"We've been pushing it everyday since I got here," Ridley said. "It's been different going out there in practice, off to the side, with a trainer, with the strength coaches." 

With six weeks having come and gone, Ridley is eligible to be removed from the PUP list and activated to the 53-man roster. Jets head coach Todd Bowles has indicated that's a possibility, but the team first needs to see if Ridley is healthy. He's been a full participant in practice each of the last two days, but with the Jets in nothing more than jerseys and shorts, Ridley hasn't been able to get in 'football shape.'

Speaking Wednesday, Ridley said he was still working to get "comfortable" playing football again. After all, it's been more than year since he last took a real football hit. He hasn't had to cut with a defender trying to tackle him, or react in a game-time situation to find an open hole. Ridley's a little rusty, he admits that, but he's also fresh. 

"I'm not the magic piece to come in and just push everyone else to the side," Ridley said. "No, I'm trying to come in and find my role, find my niche, whatever that may be. I'm gonna be the player that I am. I am working everyday to try to find my rhythm and be an NFL running back."

Ridley was adamant that what he is most excited about, is seeing how he'll be used in a Jets offense that already features the likes of Chris IvoryBilal Powell and Zac Stacy. He doesn't know what he'll be asked to do, but whatever his task is, he'll do everything he can to accomplish it. 

But Ridley isn't the only one who isn't sure what he'll be doing... the Jets don't exactly know yet, either.

Wednesday and Thursday were the first time the Jets coaching staff saw Ridley in action. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said he remembers Ridley being "real good," but having not played football in quite some time, he isn't the same just yet. 

"He looks ok," Gailey said. "You don't see the same burst, but you shouldn't. It's gotta come. I think it will come, you can see flashes that he has good feet, good balance and good vision, but just that little burst isn't quite there yet."

There's no definitive answer on when Ridley will get that step back, just like it isn't ensured he'll play against the Patriots. But whether he does, or doesn't suit up, the back can't help but get excited. 

Then again, can you blame him? Ridley says he "loves his job," and he hasn't been able to do it in 12 months. 

"I'm excited," Ridley said. "I can't go into the game saying that I'm ready to sit on the bench. I'm ready to play. I'm excited about that chance. 

"I don't know when it's going to come, or how much it's going to be. But whatever it is, I'm fine with it."



Connor Hughes is the New York Jets beat writer for The Journal Inquirer and Scout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@Connor_J_Hughes), or via email (connor_j_hughes@yahoo.com)

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