As the summer wore on, it became safer and safer to assume that Calvin Ridley was not going to get a serious crack at returning kickoffs. He figures to have a major role on offense, after all, and the team has traditionally been reluctant to expose stars and potential stars to returns, which involve a lot of running very fast and being hit at very high speeds in addition to running very fast and being hit at very high speeds on whilst being a receiver.
Yet that may have changed. Dan Quinn saw Ito Smith drop a couple of kicks on Friday while Marvin Hall also had some trouble corralling, and the team has given very little thought and playing time for either Justin Hardy or Isaiah Oliver at those spots. If the team is out on Ito and considering Hall and Hardy for punt returns only, Ridley is the natural pick.
Quinn said he recognizes the question, but at the end of the day, if Ridley is the player who gives the Falcons the best shot at good starting field position, he’s all for it.
“He’s definitely going to a have significant role on offense,” Quinn said. “But his role also is to create explosive plays and if that’s either way, we would certainly consider that.”
You’ll note Dan Quinn’s careful language here, so nothing is set in stone. But the fact that the team appears to be seriously mulling it tells you everything about how mediocre the competition has been so far, and how exciting Ridley has looked in his limited opportunities.
I’m still genuinely hopeful Ito Smith or Marvin Hall will step up and snag the job, because the Falcons really could use a healthy Ridley focusing purely on offense this season, and because Smith and Hall both offer real upside as returns. Watch carefully to see what the Falcons do with Ridley in the next couple of weeks, though, and see if Smith and Hall can right the ship.