Bulldog QBs to take centerstage in Falcons' opener

Falcons coach mum on order backup quarterbacks will play

Two former Georgia Bulldogs quarterbacks will be under center when the Falcons play the Detroit Lions in both teams’ first exhibition game Saturday in Detroit.

While Lions rookie Matthew Stafford, the first overall pick in the draft, will try to live up to his billing as Detroit’s franchise quarterback, Falcons backup D.J. Shockley has a different challenge, the one he has faced for four Augusts in a row: Can he make the team?

Drafted in the seventh round in 2006, Shockley knows the drill.

“At the beginning [of training camp], you’re like, Hey, this is the time when you make or break the team,” he said. “But once you get out there, you can’t really stress yourself about it.”

He has handled it well enough, having escaped the “turk” — the designated team official whose job it is to round up players who are being cut — for three years. He made the team as a rookie as the No. 3 quarterback, then went on injured reserve in the 2007 preseason with a season-ending torn knee ligament, and made the team last year as the No. 3 behind Matt Ryan and Chris Redman.

Thursday, Shockley described a greater level of comfort this preseason compared to last. In 2008, he was under his third head coach and coordinator in as many years. This is the first camp in which he has had the same coach and coordinator, Mike Smith and Mike Mularkey, respectively, for two seasons in a row.

“I think last year, they were throwing everything at you at one time,” Shockley said. “You’re not only trying to just say the play in the huddle, it’s kind of hard to go to the line of scrimmage and be able to perform the play. This year, it’s more, you know the play, you know what’s going on and you can just go out and play.”

Smith sees the same thing in Shockley, the fan favorite from North Clayton High School.

“D.J. is more familiar in the offense,” he said. “Remember, last year, he was just a year removed from his ACL, so physically, he’s moving around a lot better, and he’s a lot more familiar with what we do in terms of play-calling and the verbiage.”

As with the other quarterbacks in camp — Ryan, Redman and rookie John Parker Wilson — Shockley will play one quarter against Detroit, Smith said Thursday. He declined to reveal the order.

“I just want to be able to move the chains and take care of the ball,” Shockley said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. They want to see the quarterback control the offense, not have any turnovers and also just manage the game.”

In short, Shockley has to show he can be a worthy backup to Ryan, and not merely a young player to develop. Both the backup and third-string jobs are open. Saturday’s game against the Lions will be the first opportunity for Redman, Shockley and Wilson to show what they can do. Should Wilson, an undrafted free agent from Alabama, make a strong enough push for the No. 3 job, the Falcons will have to decide if Shockley can supplant Redman for the backup job.

Redman has established his viability for the job: He was Ryan’s backup last season and has 10 career starts to his credit. As for Shockley, he has yet to play in a regular-season game.

Asked if Shockley has shown he can be a No. 2 quarterback, quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave said, “We haven’t even played a game yet. I couldn’t answer that at this stage. That’s what preseason games are for, for young players to develop and also for our team to figure out how the competition shakes out.”

Shockley tries to keep a healthy perspective on his annual struggle for NFL employment.

“[In] reality, it is there, but at the same time, you’ve got to realize what makes you better,” Shockley said. “If you go out there and every single time you’re out there, you think, Hey, this play may make or break me, you’re not going to do your job well at all. You’ve just got to go out and just play.”

He’ll have his chance Saturday, and likely three more chances after that.

Said Shockley, “First you take care of today, and then you take care of tomorrow.”