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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Bob Rogers, holding a special edition of The Battalion.
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Chancellor John Sharp during a Board of Regents meeting discussing the appointmet of interim dean Mark Welsh and discussion of a McElroy settlement on Sunday, July 30, 2023 in the Memorial Student Center.
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Seeing double: A tale of two dynamic duos

Photo by Photo by Sam MacDonald | The Crimson White

Junior wide receiver Calvin Ridley runs towards the endzone during Alabama’s game against Colorado State on September 16, 2017. 

They are one of the most dynamic receiver-safety duos in the nation. They lead their team in receptions and tackles. And both are depended upon to make key plays in critical moments.
This duo is not Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk and Armani Watts, though.
It is Alabama’s Calvin Ridley and Minkah Fitzpatrick — a tandem the Aggie stars may think they are seeing double of this weekend against the Crimson Tide
The similarities of production and accolades in both pairs are eerily alike.
All four players were named Preseason First Team All-SEC. Kirk and Fitzpatrick were First Team AP All-Americans at receiver and safety respectively. Ridley was listed Second Team wide receiver, being edged out by Kirk.
Ridley is listed as an outside receiver despite being slightly undersized at 6-foot-1, but he makes up for it with exceptional mechanics and technique.
“He is an explosive player, he is fast. I think he’s the shortest guy they’ve got out there at 6-1,” A&M head coach Sumlin said of Ridley at Tuesday’s press conference. “He’s bigger than you think he is, he’s quick, he’s become a really good route runner too, which is scary.”
In the offseason, Ridley said he still had room for improvement, despite being named to All-SEC teams his first two seasons.
“I just want to get my feet back quicker so I can go out there and beat people,” Ridley said at SEC Media Days in July.
His extra work has paid off, as his team-leading 24 receptions are over three-times as much as the second-leading receiver for the Crimson Tide. Ridley’s versatility also allows Alabama to use him in all facets of the passing game.
“He’s explosive getting down the field, can make the big play down the field, but he can also be a run after catch guy,” Sumlin said. “You add all that up, he’s in the screen game, he’s in the downfield cross country game, he’s running double-move routes. He’s not just a one-dimensional player.”
Ridley’s game has only escalated this year with Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts expanding his game.
“The way they’ve done some things with Jalen off of some max-protection and some half-bootleg situations where he gets a little depth and works down the field, that’s when he becomes a real problem,” Sumlin said. “We’ve got to have great eyes in the backend off their play-action, but we also have to be able to challenge them enough in coverage to where they’re not just flipping screens out there to him and they’re getting 5-6 yards a pop.”
The good news for Sumlin is that he and the Aggies have Ridley’s clone on their own team in Kirk.
“Ball in his hands he’s a problem, and down the field he’s an even bigger problem because he’s fast,” Sumlin said comparing Ridley to Kirk.
Kirk trails Ridley in receptions (23) by one, ranking them third and second respectively in catches this season in the SEC.
While Sumlin knows the threat Ridley poses across the perimeter, Saban is trying to solve covering Kirk’s added dimension – the kicking game. An area he showed Saban his skills in 2015, taking back a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown.
“Christian Kirk is maybe the most explosive player, returner, receiver, runner of anybody in our league,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said at his Monday press conference. “No matter how hard you try not to kick the ball to him, sometimes he’s going to get the ball. I think the real emphasis has to be on your coverage team doing a really good job.”
Across the ball on defense, Kirk will be covered by Minkah Fitzpatrick who Sumlin believe is more than one of the nation’s top safeties.
“Minkah Fitzpatrick, I think, should be no just on the Thorpe Award list, I think he should be on the Heisman list,” Sumlin said. “He’s one of the best players in the country.”
During his tenure at Alabama, Fitzpatrick has rotated around the entire secondary, allowing him to line up in any position needed. He also has a knack for turning picks into points, having taken five interceptions back for touchdowns, including two against A&M in his last visit to Kyle Field in 2015.
“He’s played all those positions back there in the secondary, and you can tell he’s a frustrated offensive guy because when he gets his hands on the ball, he tries to score every time he has it,” Sumlin said.
Like Watts, Fitzpatrick has anchored the secondary at strong safety this season, and leads the Crimson Tide in total tackles, as Watts does for the Aggies.
“I feel like Minkah’s one of those guys who I’ll say is like a ball hawk,” Ridley said. “He’s always around the ball, he always hustles, and that’s one of the main reasons he’s always around the ball.
“When you can beat Minkah in something, you know you did something right.”
As for Fitzpatrick, he maintains a business-like mindset while continuing to make glamorous plays.
“I’m a quiet guy, but I just do things how they’re supposed to be done, lead by example,” Fitzpatrick said at SEC Media Days.
Saban recalled at his Wednesday press conference having a strong liking for Fitzpatrick since recruiting him and eating dinner with his family on a in-home visit. Fitzpatrick’s work ethic is one that Saban and him see eye-to-eye on, which Saban said makes coaching fun for him.
“You like being around him, you certainly like the way he plays,” Saban said. “You like the way herembraces and tries to do things that you’d like for him to do, which you refer to as the process of helping him be a better player and us being a better team which he has always been 100 percent committed to.”
“When you have the best players on your team that are really, really good guys, it’s always really fun to coach and he’s certainly one of those guys who makes it fun to coach.”

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