JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — By the time Calvin Ridley first stepped on a practice field with Trevor Lawrence a few weeks ago, he felt as if he already had played a full season with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
That’s because Ridley watched every snap Jacksonville took last season “10 or 12 times” while wrapping up his yearlong suspension for violating the NFL’s gambling policy. He broke down formations, routes and coverages, envisioning himself in each of those situations alongside Lawrence, Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram.
It was the most he could do from afar. And he hopes it will help him catch up and maybe even be better than before after a nearly two-year layoff.
“I know who I am. I can help them,” Ridley said Wednesday. “Like, I really mean that. I know I can help move the ball. We should be able to move the ball.”
The NFL reinstated Ridley early last month and cleared the way for him to join his new team in Jacksonville. Ridley spent the past five weeks getting to know the city and, more importantly, the playbook. He’s already worked out “three of four times” with Lawrence and others, catching passes and getting a feel for what could be one of the more dynamic offenses in the league.
It’s been a refreshing reboot for the former Atlanta wideout who last played an NFL game in October 2021 and has no doubt he will return to form long before the season opener in September.
“If I’m being real, if I’m being honest, I’ve been good at football all my life,” he said. “I’m trying to be humble. Like I said, I’ve been pretty good at football all my life. I not only have been good, I also worked to be good.
“And they say two years off, but what about the healing process that I got with that time off? What if I got faster? What if I got stronger? Obviously I got wiser. Why can’t I be better?”
The Jaguars gave up a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2024 to get Ridley from Atlanta at the trade deadline in November. He was suspended after the league determined he bet on NFL games in 2021 while away from the Falcons to address mental health concerns stemming from a home invasion he detailed last month in an article for The Players Tribune.
NFL investigators uncovered no evidence inside information was used or that any game was compromised by Ridley’s betting.
Now, with Ridley entering the final year of his rookie contract, the Jaguars are counting on Ridley being a pivotal piece added to an offense that was ranked fifth in the league in total yards in 2022.
“He’s been awesome,” Lawrence said. “He’s hungry. He’s excited to be here. He’s got the right attitude. I think that’s the biggest thing that I’ve noticed. He’s a freak, you know, just the way he runs routes, how explosive he is. Great hands.
“Obviously we just started, but it seems like he’s picking it up pretty quickly.”
Ridley caught 90 passes for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns despite dealing with a broken left foot in 2020. He had 31 receptions for 281 yards and two scores before sitting out the final two months of the 2021 season.
He’s essentially starting over in Jacksonville and shaking hands with everyone in the building while making sure they know he’s serious about the game and reviving his career.
He also hasn’t backed down from his belief that Jacksonville is getting a 1,400-yard receiver despite the lengthy layoff, a single-season mark that’s happened just twice in franchise history (Jimmy Smith had 1,636 yards in 1999 and Allen Robinson had 1,400 in 2015).
“What I’ll say about that is this: I am a 1,400-yard type of player,” Ridley said. “God is going to determine what type of stats I am going to have. Football is serious. You don’t just play 17 games straight and think you’re going to be in every one of ‘em and playing healthy in all of ’em.
“So what I’m saying is I am a 1400-yard receiver with a broke foot. You know what I’m saying? I know that I could make the plays and I know that I’m one of the better receivers in this league. That’s what I’m saying.”
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