Cover 9@9: Is Calvin Ridley ready for WR1 duties?

Credit: AJC

Caption
Here's a quick look at Calvin Ridley's stats from the 2020 season.

Credit: AJC

1. The no-spin zone. Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley will be expected to take over the top spot on the depth chart after Julio Jones was traded to Tennessee on Sunday.

ExploreArthur Smith mum on Calvin Ridley’s foot surgery

Ridley has been at the facilities, but has not been seen working on the field, during the open sessions of organized-team activities (OTAs).

Last season, he caught 90 of 143 targets for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s averaged 91.6 yards per game.

He was on pace for a 1,000-yard season in 2019, but a late-season injury derailed him.

“We have a handful of guys that are at different spots in the offseason,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Tuesday. “We felt the best decision for them was to put them in a different spot as we’re bringing guys along and getting guys ready to go in training camp.”

It begs the follow-up question: Did Ridley have an offseason surgery or injury that he’s is recovering from? It wasn’t asked.

“Calvin is here,” Smith said. “He’s done a great job with everything we’ve asked him to do in the meetings, the walk-throughs.”

Earlier this offseason the Falcons picked up Ridley’s $11.1 million fifth-year option.

Ridley signed a four-year deal with a team option for a fifth season after he was drafted 26th overall in 2018. In three seasons with the Falcons, Ridley has 217 receptions for 3,061 yards and 26 touchdowns.

Ridley has been working with Atlanta Public Schools, as he recently visited both Michael R. Hollis Innovation Academy and Lenora P. Miles Elementary school, where workers from Mercedes-Benz USA distributed ice cream to students to celebrate persevering after a challenging pandemic year.

But Smith sounded like Ridley’s recovering from something.

“Like I said, everybody is at different spots,” Smith said. “The biggest objective is to make sure we’re ready to roll when training camp and ultimately for the season.”

(Smith has heard about our unofficial offseason depth chart.)

“We have a handful of guys. I know you’re putting your own depth chart up there and you’re counting numbers, but everybody is accounted for,” Smith said. “I promise you. Like I said, Deion (Jones) is excused (for family reasons), but the rest of the guys are here, and like I said, are at different spots.”

There’s no need to see Ridley. We all know what he can do.

“Our challenge is to evaluate and put them in different phases, whether they need more time in the weight room or whether they’re working on something else inside,” Smith said.

2. Pitts to play outside? With Jones traded, folks wanted to know if rookie Kyle Pitts, a tight end by trade, will play more outside at wide receiver.

“Well, we’ll use any of these guys that are versatile out there,” Smith said. “We feel like we have a lot of versatile pieces, whether that’s Hayden (Hurst), whether that’s Kyle, whether that’s Cordarrelle Patterson. We have a lot of different guys, and there will be great competition in every (meeting) room.”

One thing is certain, the Falcons are getting Pitts ready for a substantial role as a rookie.

“I’ve never looked at it like it’s fantasy football — ‘here’s your 11 personnel, here’s your 12’ — but we try to mix and match, and that’s how we’ll play,” Smith said.

Caption
Falcons coach Arthur Smith comments on the development of the wide receiver groups ahead of mandatory minicamp.

3. Sharpe update: Falcons wide receiver Tajae Sharpe was drafted in the fifth round of the 2016 draft by the Titans out of Massachusetts.

Sharpe, 26, is 6-foot-4 and 194 pounds. He has played in 47 games and made 29 starts for the Titans in 2016, 2018 and 2019. He played four games with the Vikings in 2020.

He’s caught 92 of 168 targets for 1,167 yards and eight touchdowns.

“I have experience with Tajae,” Smith said. “Tajae has played a lot of meaningful snaps in the NFL. He’s out there like all of those other guys, working and trying to take advantage of the opportunity for him.”

4. McCarron update: With the retirement of Matt Schaub, the Falcons had an opening at backup quarterback.

They signed AJ McCarron to fill that role.

“Watching AJ, he played against (the Titans) in the Week 17 game to end the 2019 season,” Smith said. “Obviously, having (passing game specialist) T.J. (Yates) here, T.J. worked with him in Houston, so that’s valuable information when guys on your staff have worked (with someone previously) because there’s always an unknown when you bring free agents in here.”

McCarron, 30, was drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 draft by the Bengals out of Alabama. He was with the Bengals from 2014-17. He played for Oakland in 2018 and with the Texans in 2019 and 2020.

“You talk to people, but it’s nice when you have someone that’s on your staff that’s actually worked with a player before,” Smith said. “I like what AJ has done so far, and he’s been around, he’s played in games, he’s been successful, and it’s a good opportunity for him.”

McCarron, unlike Schaub, has never been an opening-game starter in the NFL.

McCarron has completed 109 of 174 passes for 1,173 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. He has a passer rating of 86.7. He’s played in 17 NFL games and made four starts.

Caption
Falcons coach Arthur Smith talks about the importance of having a good relationship with quarterback Matt Ryan and development of backup quarterbacks.

5. Staff is vaccinated: Smith noted that everyone on the coaching staff has received their COVID-19 vaccinations.

Some players around the league have been reluctant to get vaccinated.

“Very comfortable with where we’re at,” Smith said. “All we try to do is provide the information so guys can make their own personal choices and make everything available for them to educate themselves. Again, these are all personal choices.”

6. Gimme a lap: Players making miscues have to run laps or do push-ups.

“A lot of accountability and responsibility going around,” defensive end Steven Means said. “You see guys jumping offsides, you’ve got to stop and run a lap. A lot of accountability going on.”

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank watches during the team's mini camp workout from a golf cart Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (John Bazemore/AP)
Caption
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank watches during the team's mini camp workout from a golf cart Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (John Bazemore/AP)

Credit: John Bazemore

Credit: John Bazemore

7. Joint practice: While the Falcons will open the exhibition season against Jones and the Titans, they will not hold joint practices with Smith’s former team.

The Falcons will hold joint practices with the Miami Dolphins. The Falcons and Dolphins are set to play in the second exhibition game at 8 p.m. Aug. 21 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, the Falcons were in discussions to hold joint practices with the Dolphins and the Bills before the NFL closed its facilities in the midst of the pandemic.

The Falcons were scheduled to play exhibition games against the Dolphins and Bills in 2020.

Former coach Dan Quinn was open to participating in joint practices after the team’s slow starts (1-7 in 2019 and 1-4 in 2018). Last season, they started 0-5 and Quinn was fired.

In the past, the Falcons have used joint practices to help them evaluate their offensive and defensive lines against NFL competition. The team regularly held joint practices under former coach Mike Smith.

The Falcons have held joint practices with the Patriots, Bengals, Titans and Jaguars in the past. The key for joint practices is that both teams have a mutual respect and the scrimmages don’t erupt into fights.

The Atlanta Falcons offensive line is led by Jake Matthews (70) as they stretch during the team's mini camp Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (John Bazemore/AP)
Caption
The Atlanta Falcons offensive line is led by Jake Matthews (70) as they stretch during the team's mini camp Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (John Bazemore/AP)

Credit: John Bazemore

Credit: John Bazemore

8. Tryout players: The Falcons invited five players in for tryouts during their mandatory minicamp.

Defensive lineman Miles Brown (Wofford, 6-foot-2 and 320 pounds), linebacker Sharif Finch (Temple, 6-4, 250), linebacker Jeff Holland (Auburn, 6-2, 249), offensive lineman Wyatt Miller (Central Florida, 6-5, 298), and wide receiver Jaleel Scott (New Mexico State, 6-5, 210) will participate.

The Falcons are trying to improve their depth at linebacker.

Holland played three games with Denver and made six tackles in 2018. He’s since spent time with the Cardinals, Bills, Chargers and Rams.

Finch played with Tennessee in 2018 and 2019 and was with the Jets in 2020. He has played in 26 NFL games and has made three starts. He has 41 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

9. Depth chart: Here’s the Falcons’ updated depth chart after the Jones’ trade:

OFFENSE

WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Tajae Sharpe, 88 Frank Darby, 13 Christian Blake, 86 Antonio Nunn

WR 14 Russell Gage, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 12 Chris Rowland, 16 Greg Dortch, 82 Austin Trammell

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 William Sweet, 75 Kion Smith

LG 68 Josh Andrews, 77 Jalen Mayfield, 66 Willie Wright, 64 Ryan Neuzil

C 61 Matt Hennessy, 67 Drew Dalman, 65 Joe Sculthorpe

RG 63 Chris Lindstrom, 62 Bryce Hargrove, 71 Sam Jones

RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 73 Matt Gono, 72 Willie Beavers

TE 81 Hayden Hurst, 8 Kyle Pitts, 85 Lee Smith, 87 Jaeden Graham, 46 Parker Hesse, 80 Ryan Becker, 89 John Raine

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 5 AJ McCarron, 15 Feleipe Franks

HB 28 Mike Davis, 84 Cordarrelle Patterson, 30 Qadree Ollison, 36 Tony Brooks-James, 25 Javian Hawkins, 42 Caleb Huntley

FB 40 Keith Smith

DEFENSE

DL 55 Steven Means, 95 Ta’Quon Graham, 79 Chris Slayton

DL 97 Grady Jarrett, 90 Marlon Davidson, 94 Deadrin Senat, 93 Zac Dawe, 98 Eli Ankou

DL 96 Tyeler Davison, 99 Jonathan Bullard, 50 John Cominsky, 69 Olive Sagapolu

OLB 56 Dante Fowler, 92 Adetokunbo Ogundeji, 59 Alani Pututau

ILB 45 Deion Jones, 51 Brandon Copeland, 53 Erroll Thompson

ILB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 43 Mykal Walker, 48 Dorian Etheridge

OLB 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, 52 Barkevious Mingo, 49 Kobe Jones

RCB 22 Fabian Moreau, 20 Kendall Sheffield, 29 Chris Williamson

LCB 24 A.J. Terrell, 33 Tyler Hall, 34 Darren Hall, 38 Marcus Murphy, 41 J.R. Pace

NCB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 25 Delrick Abrams, 35 Avery Williams

FS 23 Erik Harris, 27 Richie Grant, 37 Dwayne Johnson

SS 21 Duron Harmon, 32 Jaylinn Hawkins, 39 T.J. Green, 38 Marcus Murphy

SPECIALISTS

K 7 Younghoe Koo

P 4 Sterling Hofrichter, 9 Dom Maggio

LS 47 Josh Harris

KO 7 Younghoe Koo

KR 84 Cordarrelle Patterson, 12 Chris Rowland, 35 Avery Williams

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