Falcons shift offseason focus to rookie minicamp

Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) signals prior to a play at the line of scrimmage during the first half of an NCAA college football game against UCF, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Cincinnati. Cincinnati won 56-21. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: AP

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Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) signals prior to a play at the line of scrimmage during the first half of an NCAA college football game against UCF, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Cincinnati. Cincinnati won 56-21. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: AP

FLOWERY BRANCH – Rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder, a native of Louisville, conjured up an old bobblehead of Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone and showed it during his visit with team representatives in Cincinnati.

Ragone was the Cardinals quarterback from 1999-2002 before he was drafted in the third round by the Texans in 2003.

We go in there, and he somehow dug up an old Louisville bobblehead of Dave Ragone,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “They had a connection, as small as the world is sometimes. That didn’t move the meter, but it was a good job. I applaud the effort by him.”

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Ridder was drafted by the Falcons with the 74th overall pick in the third round of the draft. He and the seven drafted rookies, 13 undrafted rookie free agents and several other tryout players will participate in the team’s rookie minicamp Friday through Sunday.

Now, that the dust has settled from the draft, Smith and his staff can turn their attention to onboarding new players and trying to improve over the offseason.

The Falcons, who started their offseason training program in April, will get a chance to work with Ridder and first-round pick Drake London, a wide receiver, taken eighth overall in the draft.

Following the rookie minicamp, the Falcons will hold OTAs on May 24-26, June 1-3 and June 6-9. The offseason will conclude with the mandatory minicamp June 14-16.

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The team will then break and return for training camp in late July.

Once they get here, it doesn’t matter,” Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said. “Doesn’t matter how they got here. It’s competition at every position.”

Smith is looking forward to working with the rookie class.

“I get fired up,” Smith said. “It’s what we get paid to do. It’s what we are passionate about. They line the fields now, you get to do a little bit of phase 2 work. And OTAs and get ready for training camp.”

Some of the players were given grades in a scouting report.

“So, now you get them in the building and you get going, it’s exciting,” Fontenot said.

The Falcons’ rookie class will get a chance to compete.

“We know we are not solving all the problems,” Fontenot said. “We are doing it one player at a time, and we are focusing on the process. So, when you’re focusing on that, we are not even thinking about anything on the outside. We are bringing in good players, one player at a time.”

Former Georgia Tech right guard Ryan Johnson accepted an invitation to try out during the rookie minicamp.

“Arthur always says to the players, it doesn’t matter how you got here, first round, second round, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth, doesn’t matter how you got here,” Fontenot said. “It doesn’t matter how much you got paid, when you come in, it’s a competition at every spot. The best players are going to play.”

Ridder was the second quarterback taken in the draft. The Falcons’ have a developmental plan for Ridder, who went 44-6 as a starter at Cincinnati.

“We’ll see what it looks like when he gets here, with all of our guys,” Smith said. “We have to see what he looks like. Got to go earn a job.”

Veteran Marcus Mariota was signed after the Falcons traded Matt Ryan to the Colts. Ridder will have to beat out Mariota and presumptively Feleipe Franks, who ended last season as the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart.

“It will play itself out,” Smith said of the quarterback competition.

Smith was with Tennessee when the Titans drafted quarterback Jake Locker eighth overall in 2011 and Mariota second overall in 2015. They may have been rushed onto the field too soon.

“Still, the guy, he’s got an opportunity,” Smith said of Ridder. “Just because you’re a first-rounder (doesn’t) mean you’re going to make it. There’s a graveyard full of them. That’s what history will tell you.”

The quarterback must fit the team’s system.

“Certainly you’ve got to acknowledge when you take somebody super-high like you’re talking about in the first round, there is pressure to play them sooner rather than later,” Smith said.

Locker flamed out after four seasons and retired. Mariota went 29-32 as starter and lost his job to Ryan Tannehill. After playing with the Raiders for two seasons, he’ll have the inside track to start and perhaps buy the Falcons some time to properly develop Ridder.

“Des, he’s made of the right stuff, too,” Smith said. “We have a lot of good background on him. Obviously, you watch the tape, you saw what he did at that program in Cincinnati.”

Ridder guided the Bearcats to the College Football Playoff last season.

“Des went in there, and he won,” Smith said. “He’ll come in here, and he’ll compete, and he’ll do the right things.”

In addition to taking two players from Georgia, the Falcons found some players at smaller colleges in Montana State inside linebacker Troy Andersen and Western Kentucky outside linebacker DeAngelo Malone.

We don’t discriminate,” Fontenot said. “We are at every school and going through players. If you can play football, we are going to find you.”

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BYU running back Tyler Allgeier (25) runs for a touchdown as BYU quarterback Jaren Hall (3) celebrates during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Virginia Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/George Frey)

Credit: Associated Press

BYU running back Tyler Allgeier (25) runs for a touchdown as BYU quarterback Jaren Hall (3) celebrates during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Virginia Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/George Frey)

Credit: Associated Press

caption arrowCaption
BYU running back Tyler Allgeier (25) runs for a touchdown as BYU quarterback Jaren Hall (3) celebrates during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Virginia Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/George Frey)

Credit: Associated Press

Credit: Associated Press

The coaching staff also helps in the scouting process.

“It says a lot about the coaches as well that, hey, we are going to dig, and we are going to stick to the process,” Fontenot said. “When you stick to the process, there are good players in a lot of difference places. And we have a staff that’s going to work hard to find them.”

Running back Tyler Allgeier was selected in the fifth round (151st) of the draft. Former Falcons running back Michael Turner was a fifth-round pick (154th) in the 2004 draft by the Chargers.

Allgeier, 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds. Turner was bigger at 5-10, 240 pounds and ran faster 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Allgeier had a 33-inch vertical to Turner’s 31-inch leap.

“We love his yards after contact,” Smith said. “Think he’s a guy that should come in here, if he’s not contributing on first, second down right away, he’s a guy hopefully helps us on fourth down. But the opportunity is there. The running back room, wide open.”

Last season’s opening-game starter, Mike Davis was cut Monday.

“The guy (Allgeier) likes to run through people,” Smith said. “Yards after contact. This year he had 40 runs of 10-plus yards. … He can create explosive plays, he grinds out runs.”

The Falcons have had trouble closing games because of their weak rushing attack. They are hopeful that Allgeier is part of the solution.

“He’s a guy that gets stronger (with) the volume,” Smith said. “That’s a rare trait that a lot of people, maybe you value, maybe you don’t, but certainly when you want to close games out, you (want) guys that can play strong in the fourth quarter.”

Then maybe one day, they’ll have their own bobblehead.

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