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Calvin Ridley is the Atlanta Falcons‘ No. 1 receiver now, and even though he’ll be replacing a franchise legend in traded-to-Tennessee Julio Jones, Ridley said Tuesday that he feels “no pressure” stepping into the role once held by a likely future Hall of Famer.

Part of the reason is Ridley’s confidence in his own play, something harnessed over the past three years playing alongside Jones with Atlanta. And some of it comes from playing without Jones for half of last season, when hamstring injuries sidelined the former Falcons star.

“I played with Julio, Mohamed Sanu, since Day 1, those guys, I feel like I’ve been moving toward that way of I can do it by myself,” Ridley said. “Obviously I’m not by myself, we have other players who are really good, but I feel like I’ve been ready and I just needed an opportunity to get in those positions.”

Ridley, who was drafted at No. 26 by the Falcons in the 2018 draft, blossomed last season with career highs in targets (143), receptions (90) and yards (1,374). He also had nine touchdowns, one off the 10 he had in his rookie season.

The 26-year-old showed he can handle being Atlanta’s top option. He showed he can handle double-teams — he said he’s seen them since the 2019 season — as he started to display his abilities as one of the top receivers in the NFL.

He did it last season playing at least partially hurt. Ridley had “minor” foot surgery this offseason stemming from an injury he suffered during the 2020 season. He’s been at the team’s facility rehabbing, working out and going through walkthroughs — essentially everything except practicing — and said he believes “I’m pretty sure I’ll be ready” for the start of Atlanta’s training camp in July.

When he does return to the field, he’ll bring with him lessons learned from playing with Jones. Every week they played together, Ridley tried to outdo Jones. He used it as motivation and a way to improve just by looking within his own position group.

With Jones gone, Ridley is looking for someone else to give him that kind of motivation — he suggested, maybe joking, maybe not, he might use quarterback Matt Ryan as that — and knows he might provide similar motivation to Atlanta’s other receivers as well.

But for him, it’s about confidence. It’s why Ridley is able to play the way he does. He believes in his game, in his skill and in his ability to beat defenders. Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s also something he received from Jones.

“Just the confidence [Jones] has every week and being the No. 1 receiver and going out to work every day, I feel like you have to believe in yourself,” Ridley said. “And by my second year, that’s when I realized that’s what he’s all about, confidence.

“So when I realized that, I just started to think that, I didn’t think that I’m better than him, but I just believed in myself and I really think that made me a better player. I really believe in myself.”

One question will be how Ridley is used in first-year head coach Arthur Smith’s offense. Ridley said he’s still figuring that out — the Falcons haven’t put on pads yet — but he likes what he has seen thus far from Smith and what could happen with the offense.

Smith said that once Ridley starts to practice, he’ll have a better idea of where he’ll use the receiver in the offense but that he’s been pleased with how Ridley has picked things up so far — even though he hasn’t been able to actually practice.

The Falcons liked Ridley enough to pick up his fifth-year option for 2022 in May, a sign of how integral they might view him over at least the next two seasons.

“He had a really productive year. Calvin has been a really good player here so far,” Smith said. “Best days are hopefully ahead of him. I’ve been impressed with Calvin, both the person and the player. I’m excited to get to work with him.”

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Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy ‘absolutely’ understands other teams’ interest in QB Nick Foles

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy understands Nick Foles’ trade value better than anybody.

One year after Nagy helped spearhead the Bears’ acquisition of Foles from the Jacksonville Jaguars, the veteran quarterback’s name is being bandied about again as a potential trade target in light of Thursday’s foot injury to Colts starter Carson Wentz.

Nagy, who coached Foles — currently the Bears’ third-string quarterback — in both Kansas City and Chicago, said such speculation comes with the territory given Foles’ impressive career accomplishments.

He said he “absolutely” understands why teams would be interested in Foles. “And you’re talking about a Super Bowl MVP and a guy that’s started a lot of games,” Nagy said before Saturday’s practice. “He’s had a really interesting career in so many ways that I just think that he deserves that. I mean, anybody that’s had the career he has is somebody that’s always going to be … for all teams, as a third string guy, teams are going to look at guys like him.”

Nagy added that he and Foles have not discussed any of the trade rumors since the team reported to training camp at the beginning of the week.

“I don’t talk to him about that; he doesn’t talk to me about it,” Nagy said. “We just don’t go there because, again, that’s out of our control. He’s worrying about doing everything he can to just be great for us, and that’s what I like about our relationship. He’s happy with where he’s at here and he’s in a good place.”

Foles, 32, appeared in nine games for the Bears last season and passed for 1,852 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The MVP of Super Bowl LII, Foles has played for five NFL teams, including two stints in Philadelphia. He has 55 career regular-season starts and six in the postseason.

Foles’ current contract — one that he reworked prior to joining the Bears last year — carries an approximate $6.6 million salary-cap charge in 2021.

The 10-year veteran opened camp behind starter Andy Dalton and first-round pick Justin Fields on Chicago’s quarterback depth chart, but by all accounts he has embraced his current backup role.

“I would say probably 95% of people in Nick’s situation would handle it completely opposite of the way he’s handled it, from the time that I brought him in and told him that he was going be the third-string quarterback,” Nagy said. “And I have to give so much credit to him because he accepted it. He understood it. Was he happy about it? No. But he understood it. … From the time we got to OTAs until now, we all talked about how impressed we are with how he’s handled himself in that role.

“I mean, every rep he gets, which isn’t a lot, but every rep he gets, he acts like he’s the first-string quarterback. He comes in in the morning and gets his workouts in super early. He stays after practice and gets conditioning in. He told me that right now, he’s in the best shape physically and mentally that he’s been in his career. Honestly, that was shocking to me, because you never know where a guy’s going to come into the summer or after the summer, and he’s done everything in his power. It’s been really neat, and he’s been great for Justin and Andy.”

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Baltimore Ravens shore up pass rush, agree to 1-year, $4 million deal with Justin Houston, sources say

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens signed outside linebacker Justin Houston to a one-year deal worth up to $4 million, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

This is a significant move for the Ravens, who added the best available pass-rusher to address the biggest hole on their team. Houston, 32, is a four-time Pro Bowl defender who has recorded at least eight sacks in each of the past four seasons.

Baltimore’s pass rush was a major question mark after losing Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency. The Ravens drafted Odafe Oweh in the first round, but they didn’t have anyone on their current roster who had more than four sacks in 2020. Baltimore has also had the fewest sacks in the NFL over the past two years when not blitzing (26).

Houston, 32, received offers from multiple teams but chose to sign with the Ravens because he believed they gave him the best chance to get his first Super Bowl ring, a source said. He visited Baltimore in April, but the sides couldn’t agree on the right price until three months later. The Ravens, who were limited by cap space ($8.8 million), have a history of spending more on their secondary than pass-rushers.

The Ravens also showed interest in Houston in 2019 before he signed with the Indianapolis Colts in free agency. In 32 games with the Colts, Houston recorded 19 sacks, 30 quarterback hits, 21 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and three safeties.

Houston joins a Ravens outside linebacker group that includes Oweh, Tyus Bowser, Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson, Daelin Hayes, Chris Smith and Aaron Adeoye.

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Say my name: Odafe Oweh leads identity change to Ravens’ pass rush – Baltimore Ravens Blog

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — One of the biggest questions at the start of this year’s Baltimore Ravens training camp is how their defense will get to the quarterback after losing its top two most accomplished outside linebackers.

When it comes to a new identity, no one is more suited to headline the Ravens’ changed pass rush than Odafe Oweh.

Three months ago, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Jayson Oweh had been selected by Baltimore in the first round. Shortly afterward, Oweh said in a press conference that he now wanted to go by Odafe, his Nigerian first name.

Oweh went with Jayson, his middle name, for about 10 years because people had trouble saying Odafe correctly.

“I don’t care anymore,” Oweh told reporters with a smile. “You’re going to have to learn how to pronounce it.”

For the record, his first name is pronounced “uh-DAH-fay.” Another clarification: Oweh wants everyone to know that he didn’t plan a grand declaration for his name switch.

Oweh’s decision was just in the moment. After becoming the 31st player selected in this year’s draft, he was surrounded by his parents and all the people who supported him since childhood.

They were all calling him Odafe.

“I just felt how far I came, how far my parents have came, and the culture, and the heritage I grew up in … It’s really how I got to where I am today,” Oweh said. “I just felt like I really wanted to start being myself.”

Oweh’s parents are both from Nigeria. His father Henry was born there, and his mother Tania moved there at age seven to attend school.

A few years before Odafe was born, Henry and Tania relocated to the United States, where they own a medical supply store. They wanted to give him a name that reflected his African heritage and touched upon the American dream.

“You come here, you work hard, and you make it, and so that was what we projected,” Tania said. “That’s what we believed would be the pathway for us, and ultimately, our kids.”

Odafe’s name comes from the Urhobo tribe, his father’s ethnic group which primarily resides in southwest Nigeria. It means: a wealthy individual.

Growing up in New Jersey, Oweh didn’t see many children who looked like him and no one had a name like his. The boys in school were named John or Ryan.

Classmates struggled to say Odafe. Some kids called him “Adafee.” Others would say “Adolfe.” The cruel ones would call him “Daffy Duck.”

It got to the point where Oweh felt he heard everyone say everything but his actual name.

“Everyone had always botched that name,” Oweh said. “I was like, all right, I’m tired of that.”

Before entering middle school, Oweh sat down with his parents to let them know he didn’t want to go by Odafe in class anymore. His mother tried to persuade him not to do so. She told him that he had to hold people accountable to what he wanted. When they said his name wrong, he should correct them.

But he went with the name switch, and it was Jayson Oweh who was the No. 2 high school football recruit in New Jersey and then a first-team All-Big Ten defender at Penn State.

No one knew that would ever change, even those closest to Oweh. After he was drafted by the Ravens, Oweh stepped outside his celebratory house to speak to reporters on a teleconference. By the time he had returned to the party inside, his parents had heard he wanted to be called Odafe in the NFL.

Oweh didn’t understand the depth of the name change until he saw his mother and father crying. They hugged him, saying they’ve been waiting for him to accept his heritage and his true character.

“I was proud. I was so proud,” Tania said. “Because I saw what I now felt like a maturation. I just felt like he was coming full circle. I saw a man who was comfortable with himself. I saw the evolution from when I was trying to convince him not to change his name, and he was adamant on changing his name, to now telling me that, ‘Mom, you know what. They’re gonna love to pronounce my name.’”

Unexpected crossover to football

Oweh wouldn’t be headed into his first NFL training camp if he didn’t make another pivotal change.

His first love was basketball. His dream was to make it to the NBA. In order to achieve that, Oweh looked at going to one of the most prestigious high school basketball programs in New Jersey.

Before his junior year, Oweh took a visit to the Blair Academy, where he had a fortuitous run-in at the admissions office. While waiting to get a tour of the school from the basketball coach, Oweh was first greeted by Jim Saylor, the football coach.

Floored by Oweh’s size, Saylor asked Oweh if he was there for football. When Oweh explained he was a basketball player, Saylor said, “You have a future in football.”

Oweh had never considered playing football. His old high school didn’t even have a football team. At Blair, there was a requirement to play two sports, which ticked off Oweh because he wanted to focus solely on basketball. On top of that, his phone wouldn’t stop ringing.

“The football coach would just keep on calling me, you know, harassing me,” Oweh said. “He wouldn’t let it go. So I went in for a summer camp, started working out and I’ve loved it ever since then.”

Playing football for the first time at 16 years old, Oweh didn’t know how to line up in a three-point stance. He did, however, bring competitiveness and a willingness to learn to the field.

A month into football season, Tania received a call from the basketball coach. “We have a problem on our hands,” Joe Mantegna told Oweh’s mother.

Her heart dropped. Tania jumped into her car and frantically made the 90-minute drive to the school. When Mantegna saw the worried look on her face, he said, “Oh, I should have told you. It’s a good problem!”

Oweh was playing so well in football that he was drawing interest from colleges for both sports. He was going to have to decide which one to pursue long-term.

The coaches explained to Oweh that he was good enough in basketball to get a college scholarship. But his athletic gifts in football gave him a better chance to play professionally.

“I knew that I had to make a business decision,” Oweh said.

Sacking the critics

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. called Oweh the toughest defensive player to evaluate in this year’s draft class.

Oweh has all the physical tools to get after the quarterback. He’s explosive with the prototypical NFL build.

All Oweh lacks is experience and statistics. He’s a pass-rush prospect who didn’t have any sacks in his final season at Penn State, which was the label he carried throughout the pre-draft process.

Oweh tried to block out all of the criticism, but he was not silent about his motivation. From the start of the draft, his mother heard Oweh say “I’m going to show you what you passed up on” after every pick he wasn’t selected.

When the Ravens were on the clock with the No. 31 pick, Oweh got a phone call. But he couldn’t hear who was on the other end because of the uproar from his family. Then, the caller hung up.

“I was going to be really disappointed if I waited that long and it was a spam call,” Oweh said. “Then [the Ravens] called back, and the moment happened.”

The Ravens made Oweh the first defensive end/outside linebacker in the past 25 years to get selected in the first round after failing to record a sack in his final college season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

But Baltimore has shown it won’t use a high draft pick on just any player at this position. After Terrell Suggs in 2003, Oweh is the second pass-rusher the Ravens have ever drafted in the first round in their history.

During Oweh’s introductory press conference, Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said he couldn’t wait for everyone to see how “special” Oweh was going to be and expressed confidence in him getting to the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Baker Mayfield and Joe Burrow.

Martindale brought up how Pro Bowl pass-rusher Danielle Hunter had 1.5 sacks in his final season at LSU. Hunter, who is 6 feet 5, 250 pounds like Oweh, has since recorded 54.5 sacks in five seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.

“What [Oweh] does when you put on the tape, is there is no one that I saw at that position that gets to the football as fast as he does, and plays as hard as he does,” Martindale said. “And I think the thing that this city is going to really love is when he gets there, he’s not in a good mood.”

Oweh wowed Baltimore beyond the tape leading up to the draft. After running Oweh through drills at Penn State, Ravens outside linebacker coach Drew Wilkins called Martindale to tell him that it was the best workout that he’d ever witnessed.

While Oweh’s athleticism and measurables are off the charts, Wilkins was impressed by how Oweh took instruction, which is key to the development of a prospect who’s only played the game for five years. From one rep to the next, Wilkins made suggestions about footwork and hand placement.

“The next rep would be even better than the last,” Wilkins said. “So, the thought was, ‘OK, if he got that good in 10 minutes, what’s he going to do in a training camp?’”

During the offseason practices, Oweh has chased plays 30 yards down the field and has looked fast doing it. He got better every day as a pass rusher, and the expectation is he’ll be a dynamic one-on-one edge rusher once he puts it all together. Oweh has a prime chance to become the Ravens’ next impact pass-rusher after Baltimore lost Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency.

For Oweh, it’s a new team, a new opportunity and a new identity.

“In terms of my name, it feels good, because I’m starting a new chapter,” Oweh said. “It feels good to start new and just work hard and really try to flip the script and prove a lot of doubters wrong.”

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