T.J. Yates ready to take over the quarterbacks group for the Falcons

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons quarterbacks coach T.J. Yates and offensive coordinator Zac Robinson have been friends for many years.

Their friendship dates to when they served as counselors at the Manning Passing Camp in 2008, when they were star quarterbacks at North Carolina and Oklahoma State, respectively.

“We came out around the same time,” said Yates, who played at Pope High before setting passing records at North Carolina (2006-10). “We worked these college quarterback camps together back all the way in 2008. So, we’ve known each other for so long. Just knowing each other, just talking football, just kind of philosophies on the game. How we see the quarterback position. All the things really aligned for us.”

So, when Robinson was hired as the offensive coordinator on Raheem Morris’ staff with the Falcons, Yates jumped at the opportunity to stay on and move to the quarterbacks group. He coached the wide receivers for the past two seasons and was a passing-game specialist in 2021.

The Falcons didn’t have a quarterbacks coach last season. Offensive coordinator Dave Ragone worked with the group after Charles London left to join the Titans staff.

But it was at the Manning camp where this deal was hatched.

“They have this camp where they bring college quarterbacks in to like counsel the camp for all these younger kids,” Yates said. “So, we came up doing that together for a couple of years. We kind of kept up throughout. We came out around the same time. Played against each other a couple times in the pros. So, we’ve always kept in touch and obviously coached against each other a few times as well.”

Yates didn’t know if he’d be looking for a new job after the Falcons fired Arthur Smith after last season.

“It’s tough. It can sting you sometimes like a porcupine,” Yates said. “It’s good. I’m so happy to be here to work with Zac, to work with Raheem. It’s going to be awesome.”

Robinson, just from working with Rams coach Sean McVay, zoomed up the coaching ranks. He’s been coaching for five years in the NFL and will be a first-time signal-caller.

“Part of the process is that you’re always talking to guys who are interviewing places,” Yates said. “I was in conversation with Zac. I’ve known Zac for a really long time. We’re really close friends. His plan was if he would get at one of these jobs or whether it was OC or go with Raheem, we had talked about the quarterback position.”

The quarterbacks had shared experiences, going back to the Manning camp.

“We see the game very much the same way,” Yates said. “That was very important to him to bring a quarterback coach with him that saw it the same way. So, we could mesh very well. So, talking to Zac was just part of the process that you go through with these coaching changes.”

Yates played for the Texans (2011-13, 2015, 2017), Falcons (2014) and Dolphins (2016).

“I was just unbelievably lucky and blessed for it to happen here in Atlanta and to stay here and not to move my family and do all those things,” Yates said. “So, we were very happy.”

Yates believes the offense will shift in a new direction under Robinson.

“Absolutely, there’s so many different ways to go about this game of football with just different offensive philosophies,” Yates said. “It’s going to look a little different than it has here in the past. That’s going to be for certain.”

Yates enjoyed his time on Smith’s staff.

“Every single coach or player you come across in this game, you’re always going to learn different things,” Yates said. “Take certain pieces that you like and keep it with you. I learned a ton from Arthur. Arthur was a great coach. Everybody knows this business doesn’t always happen, how you want it.”

Yates plans to retain some of the things he learned from Smith.

“Things that I learned from Art, I’m definitely going to keep bringing forward with me,” Yates said. “Me and Zac, we see the game through the same lens. I’m excited to start when (the full coaching staff has) only been here for 48 hours or so. So, you know, we’re still getting to know each other. All the guys and staff. It’s been great.”

Currently, the Falcons have quarterbacks Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke on the roster and under contract. Logan Woodside is set to become a free agent.

“It’s going to be a changing situation,” Yates said. “Evolution at every step of the way through free agency, through the draft, all those things, but right now they’re here with us. We’ve got to prepare like they’re going to be here with us. We’re just going to look at every option that we have.”

Ridder opened last season as the starter and was benched twice in favor of Heinicke.

“We all know that that position for this football team has to improve,” Yates said. “We’re going to do everything we can to improve that position.”

Ridder finished last season with 12 touchdown passes, 12 interceptions and 12 fumbles (seven lost). The Falcons often couldn’t overcome his blunders on the way to a 7-10 record. Yates believes that he can improve Ridder’s play.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Yates said. “I mean, he’s still a young quarterback. This day and age, though, there are a lot of impatient people, impatient media. You don’t see the days of being able to grow guys. But everybody knows it’s a performance business, and you’ve got to perform right now.”

Yates sees Ridder continuing his NFL career.

“But, you know, he’ll continue to grow throughout his career,” Yates said. “In learning the game. Learning how to play the game. Protecting the ball better. All those different things, like there’s definitely ways that every player can improve.”

If the Falcons move on from Ridder and Heinicke, Yates is ready.

“Throughout my coaching career, I’ve kind of been all over the place,” Yates said. “I started out in the (offensive) line (meeting) room. I went to the quarterback room when I was in Houston. I came here, and I was in the wide receiver room. So, you learn different things at every position, seeing the game through different spots.”

Coaching so many different groups has helped Yates’ outlook on the game.

“It really just helped my career as far as seeing the whole game and learning the offense from different angles,” Yates said. “But I’m obviously very excited to get back into the quarterback room, the thing I’m most comfortable with and being able to teach and coach those things, relate to those guys from past experiences that I’ve had playing the game. It’s going to be a fun transition getting back into the quarterback room.”

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