Coaches don’t make declarations this time of year. Just ask Bears secondary coach Deshea Townsend. When questioned about his starters, he compared two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller to Stephen Denmark, the 2019 seventh-round pick who played zero snaps as a rookie.
“Kyle’s job is to hold off Denmark,” he said, somehow with a straight face.
So it was surprising to hear wide receivers coach Mike Furrey plant his flag about probably the sixth- or seventh-ranked player in his position group.
“I think the biggest growth we’re going to see with anybody in our room is going to be Riley Ridley,” he said last week.
It’s easy to forget about Ridley, who as a rookie last season caught six passes for 69 yards over five games.
The outside world sees his surname — Ridley’s older brother, Calvin, has 127 receptions for 1,687 yards in the two seasons since the Falcons drafted him in the first round. The Bears, though, see their Ridley — a 2019 fourth-round pick from Georgia — working to get acclimated to the NFL.
“His preparation right now, his attitude, his desire, the passion he has to become successful in this game — he loves the process,” Furrey said. “And I believe when you love the process, it’s going to be successful.
“And so I’m excited about Riley. From the time we left the last snap last year to where we will be this training camp, you’re going to have a guy coming in that now has the confidence he can play in the NFL. He’s done things in the NFL now. He’s had production — obviously late, but he’s had production.”
Ridley didn’t play on offense until Thanksgiving, when Taylor Gabriel was held out because of his second concussion of the season. He played at least 29 snaps in three of the Bears’ last five games, including the finale. Ridley had three catches for 54 yards against Vikings backups, including a 32-yard reception on fourth-and-nine with 2:36 to play that set up Eddy Pineiro’s game-winning field goal.
“When I first walked in here, I didn’t understand a lot of things,” Ridley said the day after the finale. “I still don’t understand a lot of things. But I’m moving up, and I’m just working every day.”
Furrey understands why Ridley struggled.
“I think it’s just that transition into the NFL,” he said. “The transition of the playbook, the transition of the speed of the game, not having a lot of opportunity in the preseason because we had guys we were trying to get ready.
“So I think there were a lot of things last year that collectively added up to why he didn’t maximize his ability as a rookie.”
The Bears will make room for Ridley if he continues to develop in a truncated offseason. Allen Robinson just posted one of the franchise’s greatest receiving seasons. The team invested a second-round pick in Anthony Miller two years ago, and Cordarrelle Patterson is a Pro Bowl special-teamer. Otherwise, there are no sure things.
They signed Ted Ginn and drafted Darnell Mooney to provide speed — but might not be able to play both on Sundays. Javon Wims — like Ridley, a Georgia alum — has 22 catches for 218 yards in two seasons. Free-agent signing Trevor Davis has been primarily a return man in his six NFL seasons.
Furrey said time spent around Robinson should help Ridley.
“So now you have a guy that’s going to be hungry coming in and showing up with all of those comfortable traits, of not worrying about those,” Furrey said. “He knows now he can do those things, and now he understands the process of what it takes.
“I know this kid is working as hard as he possibly can right now in preparation for that training camp. And so I’m very, very excited to get Riley Ridley into camp. And I believe he’s going to make some noise on our roster.”