“No pressure, no pressure,” Ridley said. “No pressure at all.”
Ridley wasn’t aware of Jones’ long-standing riff with the team that led to the trade.
“Honestly, I was really in my own lane at that point,” Ridley said. “I was trying to worry about me. So I didn’t know what was going on. Nobody told me (anything). I got the news when everybody else got the news.”
With Jones missing seven games last season and major parts of two other games, Ridley essentially was the No. 1 receiver last season.
“I guess it made it a lot easier,” Ridley said. “But I played with Julio, Mohamed Sanu since Day 1. Those guys … I feel like I’ve been moving toward this. I can do it by myself. … Obviously, I’m not by myself because we have players that are really good. But I felt like I’ve been ready. I just needed an opportunity to get in those positions.”
The Falcons have been pleased with Ridley’s offseason program even though he has not been on the field.
“He’s done a nice job in the things that we’ve asked him to do,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “All of these guys, it’s not one size fits all. Every player has a different process that they go about learning new schemes and trying to use different learning tools. Calvin has done a nice job with whatever we’ve asked him to do.”
Opposing defenses will likely target Ridley as the top receiver to take away from the Falcons’ offense. Smith believes they can get creative to free Ridley.
“When we get into practice, we’ll push the guys, and we’ll see who can handle what,” Smith said. “We would obviously like to be flexible with multiple spots, multiple-position guys.”
The Falcons picked up Ridley’s $11.2 million fifth-year option despite the minor foot surgery.
“As you know, he had a really productive year,” Smith said. “Calvin has been a really productive player here so far and his best days, hopefully, are ahead for him. I’ve been impressed with Calvin – the person and the player.”
This is the second time in three seasons that Ridley has had offseason surgery. He had offseason surgery to remove “loose bodies” in his left ankle after the 2019 season.
“I definitely want to be consistent,” Ridley said. “I definitely want to establish myself as one of the best receivers in the league. Most importantly, help my team win games.”
Ridley appreciated Jones taking him under his wings after he was drafted 26th overall in the 2018 draft out of Alabama.
“Obviously, Julio is one of the greatest receivers to ever play football and to come through Atlanta,” Ridley said. “I feel like I have to keep it high. That’s one of my goals is to keep the standard here high.”
Ridley was named to the Pro Football Writers of America’s all-rookie team after catching 69 passes for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns. His touchdown mark set a new franchise record, eclipsing the nine touchdowns caught by former tight end Junior Miller in 1980.
His second season was caught short after 14 games. Ridley had 63 catches for 866 yards and seven touchdowns.
“I definitely felt like since my rookie year, since I’ve been here, I’ve gotten better every year and it’s honestly just with confidence because I have the ability to really do whatever I want,” Ridley said. “I’m ready to win, and I really believe in our team and the guys that we have.”
Ridley plans to lead in his own way and not try to emulate Jones.
“I’m going to lead by example,” Ridley said. “I’m going to go out there and put in the work and show the guys how to do it.”
Ridley has been impressed with rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, who was selected with the fourth overall pick in the draft.
“He’s looking great,” Ridley said. “He’s long and has got real speed. We have to get him locked all the way in, so that he play to the best of his abilities. We should have something going.”
While Ridley is ready to take over, he credits Jones with helping to get him established in the league.
“The one thing, I definitely took from Julio was confidence,” Ridley said. “Just the confidence that he has every week. Being the No. 1 receiver and going out to work every day, I felt like you have to believe in yourself. By my second year, that’s when I figured out that he was all about confidence.”
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