Falcons’ Desmond Ridder ready to take a few hits against the Bengals

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder is hoping to get whacked around a few times when he plays against the Bengals in the exhibition home opener at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Ridder, and 35 other players, did not play against the Dolphins on Friday in Miami Gardens, Florida.

“Obviously, I’d love to get hit once or twice in that game just so, you know, kind of shake some of the rust off,” Ridder said. “It’s eight months, 10 months out from whenever I last played. Just get in there, hopefully not too many hits, but maybe one or two won’t be bad for me.”

Ridder, who started the last four games of the 2022 season, doesn’t know how long he’s going to play.

“It doesn’t matter how many drives,” Ridder said. “I just want to get in there and keep the ball moving forward and continue in a positive way.”

Ridder, who was taken in the third round (74th overall) of the 2022 draft, did enough in his four-game audition for the team to name him the starter. Owner Arthur Blank is hoping that he can become the team’s quarterback of the future.

Ridder starred at the University of Cincinnati, where he guided the Bearcats to unprecedented success and a College Football Playoff berth. He posted a 44-6 record as a starter.

It’s understandable that Ridder wants to get hit, since Falcons quarterbacks wear red (non-contact) jerseys in practice, and there’s no longer any live tackling.

“Mentally, I feel like I’m at a good point,” Ridder said. “Physically, you can’t tell where you are at until you get in there with live bullets. But for me, it’s just going out there … great execution, (get) out of the huddle (and have) clean play calls. The ultimate goal is just moving the ball forward.”

Falcons coach Arthur Smith understands Ridder’s stance on wanting to get hit.

“You have to feel a real pocket,” Smith said. “I guess we could, but I don’t think that’s the smartest thing in the world, is to light the quarterbacks up in practice. ... I only laugh because I’ve seen somebody get lit up, an NFL quarterback in practice, but not intentionally.”

Former Falcons safety William Moore used to light up anything in his way, including the quarterback. He once got kicked out of practice for hitting during a time when the contact rules for practice were changing.

Once Ridder’s hit ratio has been satisfied, the offense has other goals.

“Not seeing any negative plays,” Ridder said. “That could be just mental negative plays (like wrong play calls). Then obviously your physical negative plays, your interceptions or fumbles or whatever it may be. Just making sure that not only myself, but the entire offense as a whole is playing clean.”

In addition to Ridder, the Falcons’ offense is set to feature their stockpile of offensive weapons that includes tight end Kyle Pitts, wide receiver Drake London, running back Tyler Allgeier and rookie running back Bijan Robinson.

A lot of the focus will be on Robinson, who was taken with the eighth overall pick in the draft. However, Ridder and Pitts did not play together last season, and it will be important for them to connect in the passing game.

During his stint last season, Ridder leaned on London in the passing game.

One of the weapons, running back Cordarrelle Patterson, is injured and will not play in the game.

It also will be interesting to see how newcomers will be deployed. Wide receivers Mack Hollins and Scotty Miller and tight end Jonnu Smith were picked up over the offseason.

Ridder will need to distribute the football.

“Obviously, through the game plan,” Ridder said. “Specific plays are designed for specific people. Then you get into the flow of the game and how the game is going.”

The Falcons also will need to work on the precision and timing of the offense.

“Anyways, just to feel the real consequences of timing,” Smith said. “Sometimes you may let something develop, and the speed of it is not really going to be there. So, you want to see that. You want to see a clean operation. Just get us one step closer to playing a whole game on Sept. 10.”

Ridder believes the offense is ready to go.

“It’s going to be fun,” Ridder said. “It should be explosive. Should start fast. Finish fast. That’s one thing that we preach since we got here. Especially when the (first team) gets in there, we want to play. We want to start fast and execute well.”

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