Alabama head coach, Nick Saban, has never been shy about playing his best players on special teams. Last season, it was Kenyan Drake returning kickoffs. Who can forget Drake, last January putting Bama’s national title on ice late in the game vs Clemson? We’ve also seen Saban call on his star receivers to return punts, at one time or another. Both Julio Jones and Amari Cooper, who are now elite NFL receivers did it. Now, Saban is calling on Calvin Ridley to be his punt returner in 2016.
Ridley, one of the best wide receivers in the nation as a true freshman, made his big splash last season with his fine performance against Georgia, ‘Between the Hedges’. Thereafter, Calvin Ridley was spectacular and a nightmare for opposing defenses.
Ridley’s emergence may have been the single biggest reason Bama won yet another SEC and National title. That’s saying something. Especially, with as good as Bama’s defense and Heisman winner Derrick Henry were throughout the season. But, coming into the season, the biggest question besides starting quarterback was the wide receivers. After losing Amari Cooper to the NFL and others, Bama looked thin on the outside. Though Bama loves to run the football, they also love the play-action pass.
Bama’s staple on offense is run it down your throat, then hit you deep with play-action. Bama QB, Jake Coker, struggled early fulfilling the latter. But, in that blowout win over Georgia, in the rain, it all seemed to click. Bama had already found their quarterback in the Ole Miss loss, of all places. That day against Georgia they found their deep-threat. Calvin Ridley.
Now, Ridley becomes Bama’s punt returner. He has some huge shoes to fill. Since, Nick Saban’s arrival in Tuscaloosa, Bama has seemingly been spectacular every season returning punts. It started with Javier Arenas, who returned seven punts for touchdown at Bama. Then, it was Marquis Maze. And just last season, it was Cyrus Jones who led the nation with five punt returns for touchdown.
Ridley, isn’t a stranger to returning punts. He had some experience doing it in high school. “I did a little bit of it in high school, but got pretty good at it”, Ridley said.
“When I first got here, I wasn’t too good at catching it, and then Cyrus, I used to see what he did to square up on the ball and stuff,” Ridley said. “And Coach Saban gave me a few pointers, so I’m pretty confident.”
Calvin Ridley, certainly has the trust of his head coach. Saban, called Ridley a “mature competitor.” He also says Ridley is bigger and stronger than last season, which is certainly a good thing. Saban, also praised Ridley’s judgement abilities, which is important in not just returning kicks, but also just fielding them.
One things for sure. If, Calvin Ridley is nearly as successful as he was breaking Bama’s record for receiving yards as a freshman, the SEC and the rest of the nation will have another Bama headache. The USC Trojans will be the first team to experience it in tonight’s Cowboys Classic in Arlington Texas. Seeing how Ridley does will be one of the most intriguing aspects of Bama’s 2016 season.