Falcons’ first-round draft pick Calvin Ridley is looking to make an immediate impact in Atlanta, after being selected with the 26th overall pick in the NFL Draft this year. He comes into the NFL as, arguably, the most polished wide receiver in his draft class, but he’s still a rookie nonetheless.
The transition from college football to the NFL is a daunting one for most, and can be overwhelming for some. To make that transition easier, teams often hope that some of their veteran players will take the fresh-faced rookie under their wing and help teach them how to be a professional.
Lining up next to Ridley this season will be Julio Jones, a seven-year veteran who’s been through all of the battles in the NFL. It seems as if Jones has taken it upon himself to take Ridley under his wing and to help teach him the ways of the game.
The veteran takes the rookie under his wing
When Ridley addressed the media for the first time during Training Camp on Monday, he talked about how helpful Julio has been early on in the process. Ridley said, “Everyone knows Julio is really good. But people don’t really know how good he really is. He’s so detailed. He knows everything... he’s like a coach. He coaches me on everything. Even if I do it right, he’s still going to coach me. It’s like having another coach on the field. He’s watching everything.”
This is nice to hear, as Julio imparting wisdom to young Ridley can do nothing but benefit the team moving forward. They’re both cut from the same cloth, so to speak, coming from the University of Alabama, where they both played under the legendary Nick Saban.
This isn’t just a spur-of-the-moment phenomenon within the Falcons’ WR room, as Julio Jones himself was taught professionalism from legendary Atlanta WR Roddy White when he first came into the league in 2011.
In a 2014 interview with Jeff Darlington for NFL.com, Jones said he “wouldn’t be Julio without Roddy White” in reference to the guidance and wisdom White passed on to him all those years ago.
“From the outside looking in before I got here, anybody could have easily been, ‘They’re trying to get him as his replacement’ or anything like that,” Jones said. “When I came in from Day 1, he (White) took me under his wing and showed me the ropes, just showed me how to be a professional.”
Julio made a valid point in that it’s easy to refuse to help someone who could be seen as a threat to your job down the line. As a result, it’s never a given that a veteran player will help the young guy out, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted when those lessons in professionalism are selflessly passed down.
There have been plenty of cases where the threat of diminished job security resulting from the presence of a young player has culminated in a fractured relationship between veteran and rookie right off the bat.
One of the most famous examples of this came between Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in 2005. In Gunslinger, Jeff Pearlman’s book about Favre, it was revealed that Favre went out of his way to torment the young Rodgers thanks to his insecurities and Rodgers’ arrogance.
A tradition of teaching
Thankfully for the Falcons, White never treated Jones in such a way, even though Julio would indeed eventually take his number one receiver role. White knows firsthand how valuable those lessons in professionalism are for a young receiver, as he himself was once the beneficiary of them.
Selected in the first round of the 2005 draft, White had all the makings of a bust after his first two seasons in the league, without the presence of a reliable veteran receiver on the roster. Then, in the 2007 offseason, Atlanta signed longtime New Orleans Saints WR Joe Horn to be that veteran presence. White would go on to become the dominant force we all remember after Horn’s arrival and, if you ask him, that’s not a coincidence.
“Playing with Joe was the best thing to ever happen to me,’’ White said. “He was a guy who had been to Pro Bowls and he took me under his wing and really taught me what this league is all about. He’s the one who made me realize what’s expected of you if you’re going to be a good pro. He’s the one who taught me that you have to prepare mentally every day and you have to go out and practice hard every day. He’s the one who showed me that this game takes so much more effort than I was putting into it.’’
It all started with Joe Horn selflessly taking Roddy White under his wing in 2007. Four years later, White would remember those lessons and pass them down to Julio Jones in 2011. Now, seven years after that, Jones is passing those lessons on to Calvin Ridley. When you develop this selfless team-first culture, success often follows, and everybody is better off for it.
Who knows, in 10 years we may see a veteran Calvin Ridley pass that wisdom on to the next great Falcons receiver.