Ravens Rookie WR Shemar Bridges has higher goals
BALTIMORE – Undrafted wide receiver Shemar Bridges generated some buzz Thursday night with his outstanding performance against the Tennessee Titans in the preseason opener, but it’s just part of his long journey to the NFL.
The 6-foot-4, 207-pound rookie out of Division II Fort Valley State finished with four catches for 62 yards, including a leaping 38-yard catch and a 14-yard touchdown grab.
Finally, the Ravens had a receiver who could make acrobatic catches and not fall down when he caught a pass over the middle, or bolt for the sidelines.
But Thursday night was only a glimpse of Bridges’ potential. He is basically still a raw talent.
“He’s a good young prospect that’s really flashing,” said Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman. “All of those young guys, they’re working every day on those different tools, and I think he is a very diligent worker. Everyone has room for improvement, but I’m really happy with where he is at and what he’s shown so far.
“But he’s right at the beginning of his journey, so there is a lot of work to be done yet, and a lot of experience to be had. But he’s doing a nice job.”
Those words might be disheartening for some young players, but not Bridges. Despite his speed, large frame, strong hands and leaping ability, he needs to improve on his route running and hand placement. He’s getting too extended and his hands are too far away from his body when catching the ball.
Bridges, though, likes the challenge. He attended The Potter’s House High School, a small Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Fla., not known for turning out college football players. He eventually went to Tusculum University in Tennessee before transferring to Fort Valley State, a historically Black university in Georgia.
Bridges, 24, appeared in only 16 games at Fort Valley State because his seasons were cut short by coronavirus concerns and injuries, but he still had 98 career receptions for 1,358 yards and seven touchdowns.
That wasn’t enough to get him invited to the annual NFL scouting combine, but it was enough for the Ravens to offer him a tryout in training camp – some teams only offered him a brief look in minicamps.
“I came out of high school as a late bloomer and once I got to Fort Valley, we had the COVID issues, so I thought it would be better for me to wait and put in another year,” Bridges said. “It took me a little longer to get here but I’m just happy to be here. I appreciate everything I went through because it made me stronger.
“Some ups and downs, some bumpy roads, but God blessed me to be here. I give all the glory to my Lord and savior Jesus Christ that I’m here. I’m just thankful for the Ravens for giving me an opportunity. I’m just trying to make the most of it.”
Bridges’ successes in training camp have outweighed his setbacks. Like most young players, there is a constant battle between fatigue and focus, and he’s dropped a few passes. He also needs to be smoother going in and out of breaks.
There is potential for Bridges to be that “big-body” wideout. He uses his body like a power forward or former Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin. You get position and shield the ball away from defenders.
Then there is the vertical leap, which is harder than most people realize. It’s not just about positioning but timing the jump and having the finger strength to bring it down. It could be a luxury for the Ravens, whose starting receivers, on average, are about 6 feet tall.
Every quarterback loves a big receiver in the red zone. In college, Bridges had only one coach. In Baltimore, he has two positional coaches in wide receivers coach Tee Martin and the highly animated Keith Williams, the team’s pass game specialist. Both have hastened Bridges’ development.
“They treat you like regular guys. They can get on you in the room, but you can also sit with them, laugh and joke,” Bridges said. “They are very personal.
“I feel like I’m a big receiver who can play big. But also, I feel like I’m learning how to run routes and being able to be flexible and versatile with my size, to catch over people and to box people out.”
The key to Bridges making the final roster could come down to him playing on special teams. If he is a second- or third-team receiver, he has to be able to contribute in some other way like former Ravens receiver Miles Boykin, who was a gunner on the punt team. The Ravens are leaving Bridges an option.
“It’s like all the young guys; he has got to come out here, and he’s just got to compete,” said special teams coach Chris Horton. “Shemar, he has done a good job, and we’ve got to just find ways to put him in the right position and just let him go play. But he’ll get a chance to showcase his skills 1 / 8as a gunner3 / 8. He’s just got to keep working.”
Oh, he will. Bridges doesn’t know any other way. His journey will be nearly complete if he makes the initial 53-man roster.
“I just have to keep grinding and keep working,” he said. “And, stay humble.”