Cover 9@9: Is Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder ready for the regular season?

Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) calls for a play during the first half in a preseason exhibition game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Friday, August 18, 2023, in Atlanta.
Miguel Martinezmiguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) calls for a play during the first half in a preseason exhibition game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Friday, August 18, 2023, in Atlanta. Miguel Martinezmiguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

1. The no-spin zone: Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder played only 17 snaps during the exhibition games.

Is he ready to elevate the NFL’s 31st-ranked passing attack into at least the top half of the league?

“I’m good,” Ridder said. “I’m great. I’m excited. Ready to get this thing going.”

The Falcons took the playing the starters sparingly approach to the exhibition season. They plan to use practices – with no live tackling and not one Oklahoma Drill – to help them get ready for the season.

“I wouldn’t say tiring,” Ridder said of the practice approach. “It’s just more so to get the season started. To get the games going. To get the whole thing rolling. It’s a long, long season, so you just have got to get it started quick.”

Ridder, who guided Cincinnati to a 44-6 record and went 2-2 as a starter last season, is fine with his exhibition season snap-count.

“Oh yeah, I’m OK,” Ridder said about the 17 snaps. “Like I’ve said multiple times, we work so hard during practice that when we get out there in the game, it’s almost like the same thing. So, going out there practicing against our defense, which is a really great defense, prepares us as much, if not anything, as a game.”

Ridder, as a rookie, played 121 snaps during the exhibition season in 2022.

He started the final four games of the regular season and played 271 of 275 offensive snaps while posting a 2-2 record. Logan Woodside played four snaps in the regular-season finale against Tampa Bay.

Technically, Ridder has a win over Tom Brady under his belt. Brady started and left as the Bucs played their subs with the playoffs looming.

“You can’t say practice is more important than the (exhibition) games, but they are as equally as important,” Ridder said. “Practice, for us, like I said, we try to make it as game-like as possible with the speed and the intensity (and) with the pressure so that when we do get into games, it makes everyone’s nerves kind of ease and kind of calm (down) because we’ve been there before.”

Ridder will be charged with distributing the ball to the offensive weapons the Falcons have amassed.

“When we talk about it, we call this position-less football,” Ridder said. “That just comes from an understanding of everyone knowing just our base formations. Our base concepts and just being able to put everyone, anywhere at any time. I feel like I’ve obviously gained comfort with that over the past two years.”

Ridder played mostly in the shotgun in college. He said he played a handful of snaps under center.

He has a lot more play-action work in the Falcons’ offense.

“It takes a lot of practice,” Ridder said. “A lot of repetitions. That’s where you talk about where it’s been over the past 12 years of, you know, the spread-college style. All these quarterbacks from the spread-college have to go to the NFL and learn all this new footwork.”

That’s why Ridder should have received more exhibition action, to work on his footwork, which would lead to improvement in the timing of the passing game. Several of his passes were off the mark against the Bengals.

“Obviously, throughout my career at Cincinnati I had taken a couple of drops under center at practice,” Ridder said. “Whether if that was play-action or straight drop back, just to always be in that field and never forget what it’s like to be under center. I would do that. I felt like that kind of benefitted me coming in. Then obviously coming in and working on that.”

The Falcons open with the Panthers (Sept. 10), Packers (Sept. 17), at the Lions (Sept. 24) and the Jaguars in London (Oct. 1).

After four games, we’ll know, for certain, if Ridder should have played more.

2. Robinson ready, too: Rookie running back Bijan Robinson, who played 12 exhibition-game snaps, believes he’s prepared for the regular season.

“I’m ready to go,” Robinson said. “I got my feet wet a little bit. That was good for me. Now, that I know the season is coming and just get ready for a full games. Getting my mind right for four quarters.”

3. Robinson’s versatility: The Falcons have taught Robinson every position in the offense.

“I line up in every spot,” Robinson said. “It’s good just to be a versatile player and to learn every single position on the field. Then when your number is called, at whatever position it is, you just have to know what you’re doing. Then go attack it the right way.”

Robinson was taught basic concepts and then more was added to his plate.

“Being a conceptual learner, for me, it started getting easy for me when I started learning the concepts,” Robinson said. “What they are giving me in terms of all of the routes. Every time I would learn one concept, it would make sense with the other concepts. Then I would do that a lot in the spring so when it came to camp for the season, it was a lot easier for me.”

4. Offense could be special: The Falcons offense ranked third in rushing and 31st in passing last season. If it is going to be special, the passing attack must improve.

“You’ve got Drake (London),” Robinson said. “You’ve got Mack (Hollins). You’ve got Jonnu (Smith). You’ve got Kyle (Pitts) ... there are just so many guys when you get the ball in their hands, it’s something that could be special.

“I know that we do it practice, and I think it helps our defense a lot. So, I can’t wait to show in the game because I think it will be pretty fun.”

Falcons rookie offensive lineman Jalen Mayfield looks to block for Matt Ryan against the Washington Football Team in the fourth quarter Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

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Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

5. Mayfield experiment over: The Falcons cut four players Saturday, including former starting left guard Jalen Mayfield. They also cut defensive linemen Justin Ellis and Delontae Scott and cornerback Bless Austin.

Mayfield, who’s 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds, was drafted in the third round (68th overall) of the 2021 NFL draft. He started as a rookie at left guard, before spending all of last season on injured reserve with a back ailment.

He played right tackle at Michigan and was moved back to right tackle for training camp this year. He also received some action at left tackle. But his bid to win the backup swing tackle spot was unsuccessful.

Smith was asked about the rationale behind Mayfield’s release.

“With all the moves that we’ve made, you’ve got to do what’s best for the team,” Smith said Sunday. “You give everybody opportunities. It doesn’t mean that guys can’t go other places and have great careers, but we’ve got to do what’s best for this team. That’s what guides us. We try to be fair and objective.”

Kyle Hinton, Joshua Miles, Barry Wesley or Tyler Vrabel could land the backup swing tackle spot.

6. So why did the Falcons give up on Mayfield? Smith gave a blanket answer and didn’t address why they cut Mayfield.

In our draft bio on the day he was drafted, it was pointed out that he had starting potential, but “it might take some time,” according to NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein.

He needed to improve on his drive-blocking and getting lower on his blocks.

The Falcons gave Mayfield 16 starts over two years and three training camps.

7. The 2021 draft class: What does Mayfield release say about general manager Terry Fontenot and Smith’s the first draft class?

Round 1 | Pick 4 (4 overall) -- Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida – Great rookie year. Can he do it again?

Round 2 | Pick 3 (35 overall) – Richie Grant, FS, Central Florida – Has been solid.

Round 3 | Pick 4 (68 overall) – Jalen Mayfield, OG, Michigan – released.

Round 4 | Pick 3 (108 overall) – Darren Hall, CB, San Diego State – On the bubble.

Round 4 | Pick 9 (114 overall) – Drew Dalman, C, Stanford – Functional starter. Can he turn into a Pro Bowler?

Round 5 | Pick 4 (148 overall) – Ta’Quon Graham, DT, Texas – Showed great promise last season.

Round 5 | Pick 38* (182 overall) – Adetokunbo Ogundeji, DE, Notre Dame – On injured reserve.

Round 5 | Pick 39* (183 overall) – Avery Williams, CB, Boise State – On injured reserve

Round 6 | Pick 3 (187 overall) – Frank Darby, WR, Arizona State – Released.

So, they have three starters and a possible contributor.

8. Injury report: Cornerback Mike Hughes, cornerback Cornell Armstrong, running back Cordarrelle Patterson, wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge (ankle) and wide receiver Penny Hart (concussion) were not at practice on Sunday.

Pitts and guard Chris Lindstrom were not at practice Sunday, but don’t have any known injury.

9. Depth chart: Here’s a look at the Falcons’ depth chart after the Tuesday cutdown.

OFFENSE

WR Mack Hollins, KhaDarel Hodge

TE Kyle Pitts, John FitzPatrick

LT Jake Matthews, Joshua Miles

LG Matthew Bergeron, Jovaughn Gwyn

C Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil

RG Chris Lindstrom, Kyle Hinton

RT Kaleb McGary, Joshua Miles

TE Jonnu Smith, MyCole Pruitt

WR Drake London, Scotty Miller, Josh Ali

FB Keith Smith

RB Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson

QB Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke, Logan Woodside

DEFENSE

DL Grady Jarrett, Albert Huggins

DL David Onyemata, Ta’Quon Graham

DL Calais Campbell, Joe Gaziano, Zach Harrison

OLB Bud Dupree, Lorenzo Carter

ILB Kaden Elliss, Tae Davis

ILB Troy Andersen, Nate Landman

OLB Arnold Ebiketie, DeAngelo Malone

CB A.J. Terrell, Mike Hughes

S Jessie Bates, Jaylinn Hawkins

S Richie Grant, DeMarcco Hellams

NB Dee Alford, Mike Hughes, Clark Phillips III

CB Tre Flowers, Jeff Okudah

SPECIAL TEAMS

K Younghoe Koo

P Bradley Pinion

LS Liam McCullough

H Bradley Pinion

PR Dee Alford, Mike Hughes

KOR Cordarrelle Patterson

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