August 30, 2018 Atlanta: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Kurt Benkert looks to pass under pressure from Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Malveaux during the first quarter in a NFL preseason game on Thursday, August 30, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Falcons looking for Benkert to make strides in the exhibition season

Benkert received a hefty $60,000 signing bonus in 2018. The biggest bonus for an undrafted player in 2019 was $15,000, so the Falcons liked him as a prospect. 

After a year of seasoning, Benkert’s numbers should improve from last season, when he completed 28 of 64 passes (43.9%) for 347 yards and no touchdowns. He threw four interceptions and had a minuscule quarterback rating of 35.1. 

Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub and Benkert are the only quarterbacks on the 90-man roster participating in the OTAs.

The Falcons need to find out if Benkert can play in the NFL and possibly be an heir apparent to Schaub, who’ll turn 38 on June 25.

Schaub signed a two-year, $3.78 million contract extension March 12. Schaub received a $750,000 signing bonus and has a base salary of $1.03 million for 2019. His salary-cap number is $1.405 million for 2019. The team can exercise the option for 2020 which calls for a $2 million base salary with a salary-cap number of $2.375 million. 

“That was one of the reasons why we discussed as a staff, we only get so many reps this time of year, in order to get Kurt as many reps as we can to help develop his progress. We kind of felt like in OTAs right now, we don’t need that fourth guy right now,” Quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Otherwise, it’s like last year when him and Garrett Grayson had to split the reps ups, and it’s hard to develop a guy when they only get one or two reps.”

Benkert, who played at Virginia, is coming along.

“It’s going to help him by having more reps,” Knapp said.  “He’s definitely done what I’ve asked of him. For his first year, I wanted him to learn the offense. But now, your second year, let’s get to know defenses.”

Benkert started his career at East Carolina before transferring to Virginia. When the staff was replaced at ECU, he was not named the starter and transferred. 

He followed former East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeil to Virginia. He started 13 games as a senior and set a school-record with 3,207 yards passing and 298 completions. He completed 58.5 percent of his passes and tossed 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a senior. 

Overall, he started 23 of 27 college games and completed 534 of 925 passes (57.7 percent) for 5,817 yards, 46 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. 

“He’s got a good foundation of knowledge on our side of the ball,” Knapp said. “Now, he’s starting to learn that if I have safety rotation, so I better get ready for this blitz. When there is this defensive look, I can check to this play. That’s where he’s starting to make his progress.”

Along with the regularly scheduled four exhibition games, the Falcons will play the Broncos in the Pro Football Hall of Fame game on Aug. 1 in Canton, Ohio.

“I do want to see a better job of protecting the ball,” Knapp said. “He had a couple interceptions last year in the (exhibition) season that he could have avoided. I want to see his command of the offense, getting in and out of the huddle with a good tempo and a sense of urgency. Then just the growth in his decision making. Is the ball going to the right guy, on time and are we moving the ball.” 

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