GAMEDAY: Ridley looking like the new CooperBy Cody Estremera | 11/03/2016 6:51am
CW / Jonathan Norris
At the start of the 2015 season, the Alabama offense was a mystery. The team was left to rebuild on that side of the ball — almost from scratch — after losing the starting quarterback Blake Sims, running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper.
Cooper left for the NFL Draft after his junior season, and he took all of the Alabama receiving records with him. Cooper’s departure led to questions of who was going to be the next star wide receiver for the Crimson Tide.
Enter the 6-foot-1,169-pound freshman, Calvin Ridley. He joined the Crimson Tide as a five-star recruit.
It wasn’t until his Georgia game that Ridley became a true deep threat. In the 28-point rout of the Bulldogs last season, Ridley was the top receiver with 120 yards and a touchdown. That game catapulted him to the top of the depth chart and opened up what was at that time, a one-dimensional offense.
Fast forward to the end of the 2015 season, and Ridley holds the all-time Alabama freshman receiving records in catches and yards, previously held by Cooper. Ridley surpassed Cooper's mark by 45 yards and 30 receptions for a total of 1,045 yards on 89 receptions.
This season, the offense is different than Ridley’s freshman year. The quarterback doesn’t sling the ball around the field as much, and Ridley is hardly a surprise anymore. People know his talents.
“Last year we were a different kind of team,” coach Nick Saban said. “This year, we haven't been able to get him the ball as frequently or on the explosive plays that we were able to last year. It's not that we haven't tried at times, we just haven't succeeded at it. But he's handling it very well. He's actually doing the things that he needs to do to help the team try to be successful. Never has he shown any signs of being disappointed or frustrated.”
Ridley is focusing in on the things that don’t show up in the stat book, such as plays that feature him not as the main guy on the field but as a downfield blocker for others.
“He plays well without the ball, which makes him a great team player,” tight end O.J. Howard said. “He had a great block or two in the last game. That's just the type of person he is. He's a player that plays hard with or without the ball."
So far this year, Ridley has 44 receptions for 497 yards and five touchdowns, which brings his career receiving yards to 1,542. That's almost half of Cooper’s all-time mark of 3,463 yards.
The Alabama team has noticed how Ridley is playing for the ultimate goal of another national championship, instead of his own glory.
"It shows what kind of team player he is,” linebacker Shawn Dion Hamilton said. “Whenever somebody can put another player before themselves, it just tells you that they're all in for whatever it takes to make the team better.”
Offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher is reminded of — none other than — Cooper by the way Ridley carries himself. He said Ridley hasn’t complained about getting less touches and he comes out and just works hard every day.
Even though Ridley goes about his business quietly on the field, he shows his personality off the field.
“Yeah, I mean, he’s just goofy,” Pierschbacher said. “He’s a funny guy to be around. You get around him and he’ll start being loud and start yelling and just kind of the life of the party sometimes."