Editor’s note: This is the eighth of a 10-part position-by-position breakdown of the Falcons’ roster heading into training camp. Today: Wide receivers
The Falcons are expecting big things from second-year wide receiver Calvin Ridley.
“Last year, a lot of things were new,” Falcons assistant head coach/wide receivers Raheem Morris told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. “A lot of things were going fast for him. He was picking things up as he went. He had a pretty productive season. I don’t see any way that he slows down.”
Ridley will report for training camp with the veterans on Sunday. The first practice is set for Monday. Rookies report on Thursday.
The Falcons are confident that Ridley can build off his strong rookie season which saw him catch 64 passes for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Football Writers of America’s All-Rookie team.
“Calvin is a worker,” Morris said. “He goes extremely hard. You have to slow Calvin down. There are times where he’s going so hard, going so fast, but you have to say ‘Woo, Calvin’ let’s just do these things today. Let’s do this and focus on this today.”
Ridley, who played at Alabama, was selected 26th overall in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft.
“I feel pretty good,” Ridley said. “A lot better than last year. I know the offense really well and I just feel more comfortable in the system.”
Ridley is fine with the high expectations.
“I thought I played fast last year, but I am definitely playing faster,” Ridley said. “I understand exactly what the coaches want and what (quarterback) Matt (Ryan) wants. So, I feel a lot better.”
Ridley picked up lessons from Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu last season. He plans to implement them in 2019.
“I definitely think I’m a really good receiver and I can be really good in this league,” Ridley said. “Obviously, help my team win games and put up some numbers. I just want to do good for me and the team. I definitely want to be playing at a high level. That’s the standard for me.”
While Morris has to sometimes slow down Ridley, he must find a balance while he adds to his work load.
“His whole thing in knowledge,” Morris said. “How to increase his knowledge is key. His ability to run. His ability to stop and his ability to absolutely own the passing game is how he’s going to get better.”
Ryan is a big supporter.
“I thought he had a helluva season,” Ryan said. “He played extremely well for us. He came out and was productive for us. When he got his chances, he made plays.”
Ryan wasn’t surprised that Ridley wants to contribute more to the offense.
“Like all of us, you feel there is more out there for you,” Ryan said. “He has that mindset and he’s hungry. He wants to be a great player in this league.
“He’s worked extremely hard this offseason. He looks really good. I expect him to play really well.”
Jones did some offseason film review.
“I watched film on him,” Jones said of Ridley. “He’s been doing a great job. He’s just had to, when the games come around, he’s has to be doing the same thing.”
Sanu has worked with Ridley on using his hands to snag passes.
“I’ve tried to pass that along to Calvin because he’s special,” Sanu said. “He’s super talented. You guys saw a little bit of it last year.
“ I think he’s going to have an even better year this season just because of how hard he works. He’s extremely gifted, but his hard work is 10 times more than his talent.”
Sanu won’t mind if Ridley passes him as the No. 2 receiver.
“That’s family,” Sanu said. “We are all trying to help each other out. No matter what. We want the best for everybody. We want everybody to do great. Once everybody is doing great, the team is doing great.”
Behind Jones, Sanu and Ridley, the Falcons have an open competition.
Russell Gage, who made his mark on special teams as a rookie, had a strong offseason. Justin Hardy is back and the Falcons have at least one open slot with the departure of Marvin Hall.
“Gage’s progress has been really good,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “Sometimes the unintended consequence of a guy like Julio missing time (over the offseason) is that a guy like Gage has a chance to say, ‘I can be counted on. I can have a role in this offense this year.’ He’s been one that I’ve certainly been impressed with. Hardy has come back and has been really reliable.”
Wide receiver depth chart: WR 11 Julio Jones, 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Calvin Ridley, 14 Justin Hardy, 83 Russell Gage, 15 Devin Gray, 13 Christian Blake, 16 Shawn Bane, 19 Kahlil Lewis, 7 C.J. Worton, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus
Who’s returning: Jones, Sanu, Ridley, Hardy and Gage.
Who’s gone: Marvin Hall signed a one-year contract worth $645,000 with the Bears on March 15.
Roster competitions: The sixth spot and possibly the fifth spot could be up for grabs.
“Marvin (Hall) is the thing that we are missing right now,” Morris said of the smallish, speed receiver. “You have Gage that can do some of those things for you and Gray, who can potentially do some of things for you.”
Gray, who played at Cincinnati, was on the practice squad last season.
Position-by-position series: July 8: Special teams | July 9: Safeties | July 10: Cornerbacks | July 11: Linebackers | July 12: Defensive line | July 13: Quarterbacks |July 14: Offensive line | July 15: Wide receivers | July 16: Tight ends | July 17: Running backs
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