close
close

31-35 Calvin Ridley had a hand in Alabama’s WRU becoming

TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — There are milestones with the University of Alabama football team, and there are milestones that go far beyond numbers.

A good example of the former is a running back or wide receiver approaching 1,000 yards in a season. As for the latter, approaching the stats Julio Jones posted with the Crimson Tide speaks volumes. You’re talking about nothing less than elite status.

That’s about the time everyone really started focusing on Calvin Ridley. As a freshman in 2015, he posted better receiving numbers, and during his third season he began to surpass Jones’ career marks.

Against Mercer in mid-November, when he had 103 yards before sitting for most of the second half, Ridley passed Jones on the Crimson Tide’s all-time list with 2,672 receiving yards, matching him with his eighth 100-yard receiving game at Alabama. Amari Cooper (2012-14) was Alabama’s all-time leader with 3,463 yards, while DJ Hall was second with 2,923.

Granted, Ridley was a bit older when he first arrived on campus, 21 years old, and Alabama’s passing game had become much better than when Jones was on the roster, but his performance was still impressive.

“Obviously, Julio is a great player and someone we have tremendous respect for in terms of the culture of toughness he brought to the receiving corps,” Nick Saban said after Alabama’s win at Bryant-Denny Stadium. “For Calvin to step into that arena is pretty special. “

Equally impressive that Saturday was how he did. On the opening drive, Ridley had catches for 25 and 12 yards as Alabama went 75 yards in 10 plays, which took 3 minutes, 33 seconds. It was Alabama’s longest possession of the game until trying to kill the clock in the fourth quarter.

Then he made a beautiful play on the first play of the second quarter, a play-action combined with a double move from Ridley that put his defender on the ground for a 66-yard touchdown.

“As you’re going, you see the route going,” teammate Cam Sims said. “That’s what makes him great.”

At that point in the season, a week after making five catches for 171 yards against Mississippi State, Ridley had made 52 receptions for 858 yards as the primary target of Jalen Hurt. No one else on the Crimson Tide had more than 13 catches (Sims). Ridley had also made a reception in 41 consecutive games.

“I was just focused,” Ridley said. “I want to win. This is the hardest part of the season and it is the moment when we have to get our victories.”

In fact, he was more than just a receiver who got hot at the right time. Since Jones arrived at the Capstone in 2008, Alabama has had an All-America candidate at wide receiver every year, or someone everyone knew would be “the guy” at the position. Even though he wasn’t a starter
At the start of the 2014 season, Ridley took over from Cooper, the first Fred Biletnikoff Award winner in program history, and was subsequently named to the Freshman All-America team.

Some of that was due to necessity, as the game became more offensive and any team hoping to be part of the national championship chase needed an excellent receiver. But he was also an important part of the chain for Alabama to stake a solid claim as a WRU. Ridley was the third of Alabama Crimson Tide wide receivers to be selected in the first round of an NFL draft between 2011 and 2022 (with three other picks in the second or third rounds).

“The guy has exceptional speed, change of direction, ability to get out of the cut, has good hands and is competitive,” Saban said. “I think he’s become more and more patient as a route runner and I think he’s benefited tremendously from that. “He has obviously been performing in that position for us for a long time and has had a great year for us.”

The Saban 250 ranks the players who had the biggest impact during his time with the Crimson Tide (2007-23).

31. Ryan Kelly, C, 2012-15

• Won 2015 Rimington Trophy
• 2015 consensus All-American
• 2015 Jacobs Blocker Trophy
• 2015 SEC Scientist-Athlete of the Year
• 2015 All SEC
• No. 18 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft
• As a junior, he missed just seven assignments in 806 clicks, yielding a 99.1 percent success rate and allowing no sacks
• As a senior, Kelly missed just eight assignments in 1,012 snaps, for a 99.2 percent success rate. He also committed just one penalty in 1,012 snaps with no holding calls
• Team captain

32. Calvin Ridley, WR, 2015-17

• 2017 All-SEC; 2015-16 Second Team All-SEC
• First-round pick of the 2018 NFL Draft
• Sets Alabama freshman records with 89 receptions for 1,045 yards
• Finished second in Alabama history in receptions with 224 and receiving touchdowns (19) while ranking third in receiving yards with 2,781
• Total eight career 100-yard receiving games to rank third in the Alabama record books
• Catching at least one pass in all 44 games of his Alabama career and ranking third among active receivers in the FBS in 2017

33. Terrence Cody, D.T., 2008-09

• 2008-09 consensus All-American
• 2008-09 All SEC
• Selected in the second round of the 2010 Draft
• The junior-college transfer was credited with 51 tackles over two seasons, including 10.5 for a loss
• His two career blocked field goals came in the 2009 rival game against Tennessee known as “Rocky Block”

34. Cam Robinson, T., 2014-16

• Won the 2016 Outland Trophy
• 2016 unanimous All-American
• Jacobs Blocking Trophy 2016
• 2015-16 All SEC
• Second round pick in 2017 NFL Draft
• Started every game at left tackle during his time in Tuscaloosa, 43 games
• During the 2016 season, the team had 37 knockdown blocks in 15 games
• Team captain

35. Javier Arenas, DB/RS, 2007-09

• 2008 All-American; Consensus of 2009 All-American
• 2009 SEC Special Teams Player of the Year
• 2009 All-SEC CB/RS; 2008-09 Second Team All-SEC
• Second round selection in 2010 NFL Draft
• Set an SEC record for most career touchdowns (seven)
• His 1,752 career punt return yards were nine yards shy of the NCAA record
• Holds school records for punt return yards and kick return yards (2,166)
• Credited with 154 career tackles, including 17.5 for loss and five sacks. He caught six passes and returned one for a touchdown at Arkansas
• Team captain

Former Alabama defensive back and return specialist Javier Arenas on the cover of Sports Illustrated

Javier Arenas on the cover of Sports Illustrated after the 2011 Tuscaloosa tornado. /

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Ryan Kelly had heard it before. As a third-year starter in his fifth year at Alabama in 2015, there wasn’t much that could be considered new.

But when strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran said what he always says to all seniors on the first day of training camp, it got the center thinking.

This was the last time he would go through the first day of practice with the Crimson Tide, just like he went through last spring, A-Day and summer.

“I think as a senior, every day that goes by is the last time you’re going to do something,” he said. “It’s amazing how fast time goes. My parents always say it just goes faster. I take advantage of it and cherish every moment that I have.”

That even included the 2015 SEC media days, when Kelly was one of three players representing the Crimson Tide, and on Fan Day when he teamed up with linebacker Reggie Ragland and running back Kenyan Drake to lead his teammates through drills. It’s the kind of honor and responsibility that ultimately goes to the team captains at the end of the season.

“Ryan Kelly is awesome,” Drake said. “He’s definitely the rock of that offensive line. We definitely need him to continue to move forward in our process of becoming a championship contender again because he’s a perfect fit for our offensive line and he’s a senior as well.”

With second-year tackle Cam Robinson being the only other returning starter, Kelly was actually considered the offense’s only established veteran. When he took over for Barrett Jones in 2013, he had Arie and Cyrus Kouandjio to his left, with Austin Shepherd and Anthony Steen to his right.

The other four all spent the summer in NFL training camps.

“It’s cliché, but it’s the process,” Kelly said of his success. “Everyone wants to talk about it, but it’s real. No matter who you bring in, we’re not going to change our standards for who you are. This is the ‘Bama Road’. This is a special place. It is not for everyone to come.

“I think that’s one of the biggest things Coach (Nick) Saban hammered home: When you come here, you’re part of something bigger than yourself. Everyone who’s had success here has been a part of that. All the success, the way he recruits — you can’t ignore it (the process), the hard work, the dedication, and he’s taught me how to be a good person, too.”

The center position had a strong reputation during the Saban years, as Kelly followed Antoine Caldwell, William Vlachos and Jones, who in order were named All-American, second-team All-American and winner of the Rimington Award as the nation’s best center (the other two were both finalists).

Kelly was definitely in the same boat.

“My appreciation for Ryan Kelly is huge,” Robinson said. “Everything he does is behind the scenes, but he’s the heart and soul of the offensive line. It all starts with him. Great player, great competitor, extremely smart. He does an incredible job for us.”

Ask any of the linemen, or even anyone who was on the team, and they will tell you that Kelly was the unquestioned leader of the offense. A center with his experience was a luxury every team in the country coveted. In addition to being responsible for the line calls and adjustments, he was the one man, other than the quarterback, who had to know absolutely everything — from the entire playbook to which personnel the opponent preferred to have on the field when blitzing.

That was really the key to Jones replacing Vlachos after winning the Outland Trophy as college football’s best lineman at left tackle.

“If you can play center, you can play anywhere because you know the whole offense,” Bradley Bozeman said.

Kelly, however, proved to be the best of them all. Not only did he win the Rimington after helping Alabama to the 2015 national title, but he was also a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

“It’s been incredible,” Kelly said. “I think the biggest difference between Nick Saban at Alabama and other coaches is the details he goes through every season. There’s never going to be a game where we don’t know what they’re going to do, what their tendencies are.

“Not only on the field, but off the field, he allowed me to get a bachelor’s degree. I’m about to get my master’s degree, which I never thought about when I first signed. It has been the best experience of my life, and it has made me the man I am today.”

See also: 36-40 The Jonah Williams vs. Jedrick Wills Jr. Debate

Next: 26-30