Editor's note: This is the sixth of a 10-part position-by-position breakdown of the Falcons' roster heading into training camp. Today: Quarterbacks
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will enter the 2019 season as the franchise’s leader in career passing yards with 46,720.
Ryan, who will reunite with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, currently stands 12th on the NFL’s list of career passing yards and sixth among active players.
Ryan and the veterans are set to report for training camp July 21. The first practice will be held July 22.
Ryan will be backed up by veteran Matt Schaub, while the Falcons will use the exhibition season to determine if Kurt Benkert can play in the NFL. He spent last season on the practice squad.
“I think the three quarterbacks that are on the roster now, Matt (Ryan) threw a helluva offseason getting ready,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “His reconnection with Dirk has been good, and it’s been important for Matt Schaub as well.”
Benkert will receive a lot of attention while Ryan and Schaub prepare for the regular season.
“We’ve tried to get Benkert a lot of reps because he’s going to play a lot in the (exhibition) season to see what we have there,” Quinn said. “We are committed to developing him so now we want to see him in the games and see him perform.”
Koetter, the former head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs, was the Falcons’ offensive coordinator from 2012-14. The 2012 team went to the NFC Championship game and were within 6 yards of a trip to the Super Bowl.
“It’s been good,” Koetter said about his return. “The thing about Matt (Ryan) is that he’s not a (young player) any more. He’s a very experienced player. He knows what he likes. He knows what works for him.
“He’s played with these receivers, with (tight end Austin) Hooper, with (running back Devonta Freeman). He knows what he likes. He knows what he doesn’t like.”
Koetter let’s Ryan give his input.
“He’s a fun guy to work with, but he’s also a demanding guy to work with because he wants to be the best,” Koetter said.
The two seemed to have picked up where they left off.
“I really enjoyed my first three years working with him in Atlanta,” Ryan said. “It’s been a good working relationship in terms of coming together on what we’ve seen the last couple of years and trying to put that together with who we are as a football team.”
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 in exhibition action. He threw four interceptions and had a minuscule quarterback rating of 35.1.
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.
Benkert, who played at East Carolina and Virginia, is coming along.
“It’s going to help him by having more reps,” quarterbacks coach Greg 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 he 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.”
Quarterback depth chart: 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 6 Kurt Benkert
Who's returning: All three were with the team last season with Benkert on the practice squad.
Who's gone: Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was replace by Koetter.
Roster competitions: Schaub is 38, and the Falcons need to find out if Benkert can eventually take over as the backup quarterback.
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.