Inside the Bears’ spacious, brand-new locker room at Halas Hall, who a player's stall is situated next to has a random feel to it. They’re not grouped by positions — Cody Whitehair’s locker, for example, is next to Akiem Hicks’ and is on the opposite end of the long room from Mitch Trubisky’s.
But there is a set of lockers that feel intentionally placed. Turn to your right after entering the locker room, and you’ll see two names next to each other: Allen Robinson and Riley Ridley.
“He’s been a big role model for me and other young guys in the room,” Ridley, the Bears’ fourth-round pick this year, said. “Just the way he comes to work and he preps for the games, the way that he attacks the studies for the different plays, it’s just the leader that he is. You can learn a lot from him and being right next to him.”
The Bears couldn’t ask for Ridley to have better model of professionalism to observe than Robinson, from how he prepares and studies to how he sets up his routes to how he interacts with the media.
But Ridley’s rookie year has been a humbling experience for the former Georgia standout, who the Bears were elated fell to them with the 126th pick in April’s draft.
“(He was) truly, by far, the best player on our board,” general manager Ryan Pace said seven months ago.
But Ridley — whose brother, Calvin, plays for the Atlanta Falcons — has yet to play a single snap for the Bears 11 games into the 2019 season. And it’s not just that he hasn’t been on the field — he’s only been active for one game (Week 4 vs. Minnesota).
“It’s humbling,” Ridley said. “But you gotta stay ready, you never know when your time is gonna come. It’s just a humbling experience when you’re coming out of college being the man and you expect to come in and do the same.
“… When you’re not playing for a while, you find a way to love the game.”
So Ridley has had to alter his expectations from making a consistent impact on gamedays to trying to do what he can behind the scenes to be prepared if and when that opportunity comes. Wide receivers coach Mike Furrey has been pleased with Ridley’s maturity in handling the difficult position in which he’s been this year.
“He does it in practice, he does it by the way he runs his routes — if you see him on scout team, what he does in practice and how he runs his routes and sticks to details and catches footballs, he’s preparing himself,” Furrey said. “That day’s going to be fun someday.”
Will that day come on Thanksgiving when the Bears head to Detroit without Taylor Gabriel, who’s unlikely to play with a concussion?
Unfortunately for Ridley, and for the segment of Bears fans hoping to see what No. 88 can do, the answer for this week is probably not.
The Bears leaned heavily on Javon Wims in Gabriel’s previous concussion-related absence, with the 2018 seventh-round pick playing 118 snaps — about 93 percent — in Weeks 4 and 5 against the Vikings and Raiders. Wims, notably, saw an uptick in usage in Week 12 (before Gabriel’s injury, too), playing 45 percent of the Bears’ snaps against the Giants.
With a short week consisting of two light walkthrough practices to prepare, it seems far more likely the Bears will see Wims as their "next man up" on Thursday than Ridley.
“He’s been a true pro,” coach Matt Nagy said. “He’s trying to learn every day after practice. He takes advice. Very patient. I know it’s killing him, because he wants to be out there. With Taylor here up in the air, we’ll see what kind of chance this gives Riley.”
While the Bears were excited to draft Ridley, he was always going to face an uphill climb to carving out a role in this offense his rookie year. The Bears like Robinson’s productivity, Gabriel’s speed and Anthony Miller’s talent. They like Cordarrelle Patterson’s impact on special teams and Wims’ size and knowledge of the offense.
Still, it’s been a little surprising the Bears haven’t been able — or willing — to get Ridley on the field this deep into his rookie year. For a 5-6 team falling well short of expectations, getting no impact from the guy taken with their second-highest draft pick is disappointing, even if the Bears believe Ridley has a bright future.
So we’ll see what Ridley can do when he finally does get an opportunity — even if it doesn’t come on Thanksgiving. Until he does, though, he’ll plugging away at his craft and trying to pick up as much as he can from Robinson from just one locker stall away.
“For me,” Ridley said, “it’s just to absorb that, watch him and take a little something and learn it and apply it to my game.”