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Calvin Ridley working on 'art' of route running entering first season without Julio Jones

Calvin Ridley has gotten a taste of what it's like to be his team's best receiver on an NFL field. Now, it's his reality.

Sitting at the top of the depth chart comes with responsibilities and an expectation of increased attention. Ridley will face the top cornerbacks on nearly every team his Falcons face this season, and he'll likely see plenty of safety involvement over the top as well. He got a taste of it last week in Miami, where the Falcons traveled to participate in joint practices with the Dolphins, who boast two very effective corners in 2020 interceptions leader Xavien Howard and teammate Byron Jones.

"That was great work. Two good corners in the (NFL)," Ridley said this week, via the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "They press almost every down. I was able to work some stuff and get a little better."

A little better for Ridley could go a long way. After finishing just shy of the 900-yard mark in each of his first two seasons, Ridley exploded in 2020, leading the Falcons in receiving with 1,374 yards and tying Packers star Davante Adams for the fifth-most in the league. Ridley did so while teammate Julio Jones bounced in and out of the lineup due to injury, playing a total of nine games and giving Ridley nearly half a season's worth of a test run as Atlanta's No. 1.

With Jones gone for Nashville, that test is what the future will look like for Ridley, the unquestioned top dog in Atlanta's receiving corps. The only remaining questions involve his health and the exact location of his ceiling.

One way to improve is in his footwork, which Ridley said he's addressing by consistently running ladder drills to improve his speed.

"That literally will change my footwork," Ridley said. "I'm snapping it down and trying to get out of breaks. Just the ladder will help me transition out of my breaks faster. It just takes, you know, reps. If you do it every your feet are going to get better. That's anybody."

Ridley has flashed some fancy feet at times in his still-young career, and did so in Miami in a clip that has certainly made its rounds on the internet.

It's a long route, especially for a red zone play, but it illustrates Ridley's attention to detail with his feet, which could elevate him to the next level.

"It's not a science," Ridley said of route running, later adding he studies the great Jerry Rice in an effort to improve. "It's an art. It's art. It's drawing. It's lines. It's separation, angles and stuff. That's really what it is."

If Ridley can effectively and consistently take the place of Jones and make the departure of the Falcons legend easier to bear, they'll start painting murals of him in Georgia. We'll see over the next few weeks, months and years whether he can put together a few masterpieces of his own in black and red.

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