FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Make no mistake about it, Falcons rookie Calvin Ridley looked very good returning kicks against the Chiefs last Friday night.
Ridley, the Falcons’ top draft pick, jump-started the game with an electric 34-yard kickoff return. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound speedster out of Alabama made a nifty side-step at the 14-yard line to leave one would-be Chiefs tackler grasping at air before showing off his stiff-arm at the 23 to give the Falcons excellent starting field position at the 35.
The kick-returner job is one of the few position battles that was wide open when training camp kicked off back on Aug. 27. Andre Roberts, last year’s primary returner, left via free agency and it’s an area the Falcons are looking to improve in. Atlanta’s average starting field position was at the 25-yard line in 2017, which was last in the league, according to Pro Football Reference.
So it begs the question: Will the Falcons name the Ridley the regular returner in 2018? Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong wouldn’t go that far, but came close.
“We’re going to take a look at him throughout the preseason and probably make a probably make a decision at the end of the preseason in terms of what we’re going to do with him,” Armstrong said. “But obviously he’s got the talent and ability to do it.”
Also competing with Ridley are Marvin Hall, Justin Hardy, Reggie Davis and rookie Ito Smith.
“There’s a lot of good competition this week,” Armstrong said. “A lot of guys playing hard, playing with a lot of energy, more people flying around. I can’t say enough about the group in terms of how guys competed throughout the whole game on special teams.”
But when asked again about Ridley, Armstrong checked all the boxes that teams are looking for in a returner.
“He’s got vision, he’s got a feel,” Armstrong said. “He’s a natural returner. He’s not a guy that pats his feet. He can make a good decision. You know how it is in this league – the hole still opens and closes quick, and he’ll hit it. He made a nice decision the other night and obviously knocked the ball out to the 35. I’m excited about him back there as the returner.”
And so were Falcons when they watched Ridley on that opening kickoff. The rookie, says his coach, made the right read and the rest was history.
“Whatever you see and however you read it, he saw it and read it the right way and made the proper cut,” Armstrong said. “The issue is when guys pat their feet. They get up there and they wait. Well you’re dead; everybody’s got you now. He just ran up there, read it, saw it, bam, go.”