Editor’s note: This is the eighth of an eight-part position-by-position series analyzing the Falcons’ roster before they report for training camp. The rookies reported Tuesday, and the veterans report July 26.
FLOWERY BRANCH -- – The Matt Ryan era at quarterback is over.
It’s time to move on, and Falcons coach Arthur Smith was glad that he had Ryan for a season and has the utmost respect for the former signal-caller.
“He’d been here a long time as a franchise staple,” Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s going to be completely new look in there with Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder. Feleipe (Franks) will have to compete for some sort of role.”
Mariota, a No. 2 overall NFL draft pick and a Heisman Trophy winner, had been in exile on the Raiders bench for the past two seasons. He has a career 29-32 record with a playoff win under his belt.
“We have to make sure that we bring Marcus along, at the same time giving Des a fair shot,” Smith said. “But we’re not going to rush something for some agenda. The best player will play.”
So, the Falcons are unproven at the game’s premier position.
“We’re going to look to develop in that spot,” Smith said. “That was an old-school approach. I know that’s what Ron Wolf did (with the Green Bay Packers). You break training camp and you look over there you got Brett Favre, Mark Brunell, one of the Detmer brothers was there at some point, you had Matt Hasselbeck there at some point, you had Aaron Brooks from (the University of Virginia) at some point, and you had Kurt Warner, who couldn’t get through camp.”
It takes time to develop quarterbacks. Patrick Mahomes played in only one game of his rookie season under coach Andy Reid. When he was ready to play, the Chiefs set out on a Super Bowl journey.
“Why not, take shots and try to develop (a quarterback), especially with these longer seasons, when you get so thin,” Smith said. “Yeah, it’s great when you have your franchise quarterback, and everybody is looking for that, but (developing also helps) when you’re also thin at that position and the guy can’t play.
“Unfortunately, if he gets injured, even if he’s out only a week or two, that could cost you a trip to the postseason. As long as I’m here, we’ll continue to try to develop that (group).”
The Falcons elected not to bring in a fourth quarterback as a “camp arm.” They want Mariota and Ridder to get all of the practice work. Franks likely will get some work at the position, but he spent the offseason trying to convert to tight end.
The Falcons are not overly concerned about wearing out Mariota’s and Ridder’s passing arms.
“When you look at it in terms of the quarterbacks for live periods of practice, there is not a lot (of) taxing amount of periods where the ball is being thrown,” offensive coordinator Dave Ragone said. “We’ll be (mindful) as we watch the quarterbacks over in training camp. It’s obviously one of the things we’ll monitor.”
Ryan was a classic drop-back quarterback, while Mariota and Ridder are more athletic quarterbacks and products of collegiate-styled spread offenses. Ragone believes the Falcons’ system can shift to the traits of the quarterbacks.
“There are no limitations on the quarterbacks and what we are going to ask them to do,” Ragone said. “We’re going to try to grow with them and evolve with what we think makes the most sense. We’ll get the feedback from them and more importantly, when you watch the film, seeing where they are most comfortable. Obviously, that’s what we’ll do.”
Mariota was selected after Jameis Winston at the top of the 2015 draft. He is hoping to revive his once promising career. He was with the Titans and Arthur Smith for the first five seasons of his career.
“Throughout this process that was kind of my main goal was to find an opportunity to play,” Mariota said. “This presented itself and with the staff, with the relationships that I’ve had with these guys before, it made pretty much an easy transition and easy decision.”
Mariota believes he can flourish in the Falcons’ offense.
“I really believe in what Art is building here,” Mariota said. “And it’s just fun for me to come into work and be around a lot of good people.”
Mariota has to build chemistry with tight end Kyle Pitts and the rest of the Falcons’ revamped receiving corps.
“I mean, we get to do routes on air, full speed,” Mariota said. “We’re always constantly in communication, which is cool. I think, again, it’s a younger (group), but there’s also some guys that are older vets that have played that can share their experiences.”
Ridder had a strong offseason, but still must get more comfortable in the NFL game.
“We want plays designed within plays,” Ridder said. “We really want to go out there and get a certain play against a perfect look. So, we’re able to check into a play that we like rather than what we had on. For us, as quarterbacks it’s adding new checks every single day and then coming out here and (practicing) them.”
Ridder knows that he can’t gamble with the ball by forcing his throws.
“For me, that’s just playing smart, being a smart quarterback,” Ridder said. “Going out there and not taking too many hits. Being smart with the ball when you have it in your hands. Then when you go to throw it, being able to survive to the next play.”
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.