JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Calvin Ridley knows the questions are out there.
What will he look like after nearly two full years away from playing in an NFL game? Can he be anywhere close to the same player he was in 2020, when he caught 90 passes for 1,374 yards? Is he still a game-breaker?
The Jaguars' newest receiver has the answer: You'll see in September.
"I'm trying to be humble, [and] I've been pretty good at football all my life, and I not only have been good, I also worked to be good," Ridley said Wednesday in his first interview since he was cleared to return from his suspension for gambling on NFL games. "They say two years off. But what about the healing process? What if I got faster? What if I got stronger?
"Obviously I got wiser. Why can't I be better?"
That's certainly what the Jaguars are hoping because that would make them one of the NFL's best offenses in 2023. They were 10th in the NFL in total offense and scoring last season without Ridley, and all the key playmakers -- receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, tight end Evan Engram, running back Travis Etienne Jr., and quarterback Trevor Lawrence -- are back for the second season in head coach Doug Pederson's offense.
Ridley has already said in a report, on The Players' Tribune last month, that he would put up a 1,400-yard season in his return.
"I am a 1,400-yard type of player. God is going to determine what type of stats I am going to have," Ridley said. "Football is serious. I mean, you don't just play 17 games straight and think you're going to be in every one of them and playing healthy in all of them. So what I'm saying is I am a 1,400 yard receiver with a broken foot.
"...So I know that I could make the plays, and I know that I'm one of the better receivers in this league. That's what I'm saying."
Lawrence said he has thrown with Ridley three or four times since Ridley was reinstated on March 6 before the start of the Jaguars' voluntary offseason conditioning program, which began this Monday. He has been impressed.
"He's been awesome," Lawrence said "He's hungry. He's excited to be here. He's got the right attitude. I think that's the biggest thing that I've noticed. On the field he's a freak, just the way he runs routes, how explosive he is.
"We just started, but it seems like he's picking [the offense] up pretty quickly."
Ridley hasn't played in an NFL game since Oct. 24, 2021, so when the Jaguars open the season in September, it will be his first game in 23 months. He hadn't even been in a locker room since he left the Falcons on Oct. 31, 2021, to focus on his mental health. Stepping into the Jaguars' locker room shortly after being reinstated was special, he said.
"The smell, the locker room. I remember my first day I walked in, there was no one in the locker room, but I was just like, 'Wow, I'm really back in here,'" Ridley said.
On March 7, 2022, the NFL announced that Ridley would be suspended for at least the 2022 season after an investigation found that he bet on NFL games over a five-day stretch in November 2021. He admitted in The Players' Tribune report that gambling on NFL games was the "worst mistake of his life." He also said he played through a foot injury in 2020, got misdiagnosed with a bone bruise and eventually had surgery a couple of months before training camp began in 2021. He said he was mentally drained from dealing with the injury and had anxiety related to a break-in at his home, which is why he eventually stepped away from the game.
The Jaguars traded for Ridley last November -- sending the Falcons a 2023 fifth-round pick and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2024 that could rise as high as a second-round pick if the Jaguars sign Ridley to an extension. Ridley's reinstatement means he will be paid a guaranteed $11.116 million in 2023 as the fifth-year option from the rookie deal he signed with the Falcons after being drafted 26th overall in 2018.