FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Even with temperatures in the mid-80s for the opening day of the Falcons rookie minicamp, wide receiver Calvin Ridley wore long sleeves under his red No. 18 jersey.
He just couldn’t resist.
It’s a freedom that was never allowed for skill position players in Ridley’s college career under Alabama coach Nick Saban.
“Oh man, I didn’t get to wear this in college so I had to do it,” Ridley said. “Coach really didn’t like us to wear long sleeves and I had to do it. I had to try.”
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As an NFL first-round draft pick , Ridley was enjoying some new-found flexibility during his first practice as a professional.
“I can have my shirt out a little bit,” he said, holding the bottom of his jersey. “I don’t have to tuck my shirt in.”
Long sleeves? Shirt untucked?
Sorry coach Saban, but there’s more.
At times on Friday, Ridley even took off his helmet.
“It’s a little different to take my helmet off all the time,” Ridley said, smiling while recalling his days under Saban’s strict watch. “A little more freedom. It’s cool, though.”
Ridley may have felt like a rebel while catching passes in his first Falcons practice, but soon his old college rules will become a distant memory. The young wide receiver may quickly shed the long sleeves when the full Falcons roster is together for mandatory minicamp in June and training camp in July.
Besides, there are more important matters in Ridley’s mind. He must learn the Falcons playbook as he tries to prove he can join veteran receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu as another top target for quarterback Matt Ryan .
On Friday, Ridley may have been too eager to show he can meet expectations that come with being a first-round draft pick.
Ridley acknowledged he was “just very excited” and may have tried to move too fast while running plays with other draft picks and 27 undrafted rookies participating in the camp.
On the first play following a water break, Ridley ran a crossing route over the middle and had the ball fall to the ground off his hands. He appeared to turn up field before securing the ball.
“I want to play fast and I’ve got to slow it down a little bit to learn better and get comfortable, and I’m going to be fine,” he said.
Coach Dan Quinn said it’s a common first-day scenario for rookies.
“Like most of the guys, they want to do right so well, they want more reps, more turns to get rolling,” Quinn said. “It’s a good lesson. Stay in the moment of this play. That’s not uncommon for any of them.”
The Falcons expect Ridley to make an immediate impact as another playmaker on an offense that suffered a decline in 2017 after leading the NFL in scoring in 2016. He finished his college career ranked second on the Alabama records, behind Amari Cooper, for catches and TD catches.
Ridley is the only unsigned player among Atlanta’s six draft picks. He said he is leaving the contract negotiations to his agents.
“I’m just letting my people work,” he said. “… I’m worried about football.”
NOTES: Russell Gage, one of two sixth-round picks , was listed as a wide receiver in the NFL draft, but he worked at cornerback on Friday. “Just to make sure where we’re going to put him,” Quinn said. Gage played both positions at LSU and will move back to offense when the minicamp continues on Saturday. Quinn said he may work other players at more than one position.
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