FOXBOROUGH, Mass -- New England running back Stevan Ridley knows something about taking advantage of an opportunity that presents itself. A year ago the former third-round pick turned a chance to be New England lead back in just his second season into an impressive 1,200-yard, 12-touchdown sophomore effort.
This year in the Patriots backfield, the biggest opportunity might go to Shane Vereen. Entering his third season the former second-round pick -- taken ahead of Ridley in 2011 -- is expected to take over the job as New England's third-down/change-of-pace back after Danny Woodhead's free agent departure to the Chargers.
Ridley, for one, thinks his pal Vereen is ready for the increased role in 2013.
"I don't think Shane's any dummy," Ridley said. "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.
"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."
Only six players on the Patriots 90-man roster were absent from the team's OTA this week. That group included TE Rob Gronkowski (arm), LB Brandon Spikes, RB Brandon Bolden (ankle), WR Julian Edelman (foot), OL Nick McDonald and OL Will Svitek.
Spikes is the most notable of the absentees as he's reportedly choosing to work out on his own rather than attend the voluntary OTA workouts as he heads into the final year of his rookie contract. Spikes is expected to be at New England's mandatory veteran mini-camp on June 11.
Punter Zoltan Mesko is heading into the final year of the rookie contract he signed as a fifth-round pick out of Michigan in 2010. He's also heading toward a training camp in which he could get some serious competition for his job from rookie free agent Ryan Allen.
Allen was a two-time Ray Guy Award winner at Louisiana Tech, and much like Mesko he fills Bill Belichick's preference of having a left-footed punter.
As such for really the first time in his professional career, the affable punter Mesko could be in a fight for his job.
"I'm a pretty friendly personality, " Mesko said. "I will talk (to him), but at the same time we both understand it's business and make the best of healthy competition. We know it's going to get us both better at the same time. We may say we don't like competition, but deep down inside we like it because it gets us better and keeps us on our toes."
--Wide receiver Josh Boyce, a fourth-round pick out of TCU, signed his rookie contract May 28. The deal is reportedly for four years with a total value of $2.637 million and includes a $477,000 signing bonus.
--Linebacker Michael Buchanan, a seventh-round pick out of Illinois, signed his rookie contract with New England May 28. The deal is reportedly for four years with a total value of $2.213 million and includes a signing bonus of $53,612.