Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley is an all-world talent. He has all the tools to once again rise to the top of the NFL receiver crop. But for highly skilled athletes, missing a full year of football isn’t ideal. So how long will it take Ridley to wipe off the rust?
Nothing compares to the speed of the NFL. No matter how hard you train, you simply cannot replicate game days. Even one-on-ones against top cornerbacks in the league won’t fully prepare you for what is going to happen on Sundays (or Saturdays) in the NFL.
For Ridley, against the Cowboys, his elite talent was clearly visible. He breaks in and out of cuts effortlessly, and his quickness is second to none. But rust certainly reared its ugly head in his first contest as a Jaguar.
The first play from scrimmage saw Ridley attempt a stalk block on a bubble screen to Christian Kirk. Ridley got planted.
Stalk blocking is one of the hardest things to do in football, especially on the outside. Cornerbacks are some of the best athletes in the entire NFL. With so much space to work with, if your fundamentals are missing you’ll be made to look like a fool.
As Ridley came off the line of scrimmage, he did a great job of closing the space and breaking down to initiate the block. Where it all goes wrong is right before contact. Ridley takes a lateral step towards the sideline giving up all momentum and leverage. That step causes his weight to shift backward, and his head to dip, forcing Ridley to receive the block rather than being the one to initiate it.
For any stalk block, it is essential to keep your feet moving on contact. The assignment requires you to keep yourself between the defender and the ball carrier. After that, it’s up to the runner to cut off your block.
In this case, as the cornerback came down on the outside, Ridley should have engaged while keeping his feet moving and forced the defender to the sideline. This would’ve given Kirk a lane to cut up the field.
This is something Ridley, and all Jaguars’ receivers, will learn from. Hopefully, a good play to literally get the rust knocked off.
Another play that showed signs of being away from the game was the lone touchdown for the Jaguars’ starters.
The route was a 7-Stop, which called for an initial stem of about 10 yards before breaking on a corner route. Three to five steps into the corner route, the receiver should break his route off and turn back to the quarterback. If the receiver is the intended target, the ball will be on its way as soon as he breaks down cutting off the corner route.
Unfortunately by alignment, Ridley shortchanges himself before the play begins. A cornerback doesn’t have much to lose giving up a corner route this close to the sideline. This may be why Trevor Lawrence doesn’t pull the trigger.
Lawrence does appear to look Ridley’s way initially but didn’t like what he saw. The third-year signal caller seems to feel a nonexistent rush and almost bails from the pocket. Once he realizes he has time, it’s too late for Ridley so he goes to his next read from the same side of the formation, Christian Kirk.
Kirk does a great job of finding the open space as he just continues his slant across the field. Touchdown.
On the positive side, and what Jaguars fans will become accustomed to seeing, is how Ridley’s superb route running was on full display. On his second catch of the day, the star receiver was in complete control on an out route. It’s not easy breaking to the outside at full speed.
Being at top speed and in control allowed Ridley to stay flat down the line as he broke to the sideline. This subtle move is a quarterback's best friend. It makes sure the defender cannot undercut the route. If the quarterback keeps the throw to the sideline then the pass will be either incomplete or a catch.
The Cowboys’ defense disguised their coverage pre-snap. They do a great job of making it look like Cover 3 only to turn it into Cover 1 after the snap.
Ridley’s speed had the cornerback looking to defend the deep route. And as Ridley broke on the out in stride, the CB had to take a few extra gather steps before he could plant his foot in the ground and get downhill. By that time it was too late as Ridley hauled in an easy completion.
Making a difficult cut look so routine is what makes Calvin Ridley special. And will certainly allow him to get back up to game speed quicker than most players after a full season off.
Doug Pederson also made life a little easier for Ridley in his return. The star receiver only lined up as the No. 1 receiver to the right side of the formation for the entire time he was on the field. It’s a smart move from the experienced head coach to allow his receiver to slowly get comfortable with the speed of the NFL.
Ridley makes the offense immensely better, so look for his role to grow as the preseason wears on. Here is every route he ran against the Cowboys.
If starters are playing in the second preseason game, how does Calvin Ridley improve against the Detroit Lions?