Kurt Benkert is vying to be the second Virginia quarterback on the Falcons’ depth chart.
Benkert was not drafted last month despite a record-setting season with the Cavaliers. The Baltimore native became the first Virginia quarterback to surpass 3,000 yards, throwing for 3,207 and 25 touchdowns on a 58.5 completion rate.
He commonly was projected as a Day 3 choice, but that didn’t come to fruition. He chose to sign with the Falcons after the draft.
“I was disappointed, a little bit surprised,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I got to end up in a really good situation and everybody starts from the same spot, so it’s all going to work out as it needs to.”
Benkert missed the 2015 season with a knee injury. He transferred to Virginia to join former coach Ruffin McNeill, and went on to post historic numbers across 24 games.
He played with a hurt shoulder his junior season before breaking out last season. Benkert threw for 5,817 yards, 46 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in two seasons, earning a 122.4 rating.
Falcons backup quarterback and Virginia product Matt Schaub reached out to Benkert after the draft. The 22-year-old saw an opportunity to learn from Matt Ryan and Schaub in Atlanta.
“The opportunity to learn from two really good veterans, being in a really good offense, a lot of success, a really good system, a really good coaching staff and organization,” he said of what drew him to the Falcons. “You really get everything coming here.”
Benkert admires Ryan, whose tape is an easy watch, he said. Benkert added there’s a difference between studying Ryan or an improvisor such as Aaron Rodgers, who’s less technical and near impossible to emulate.
Benkert was sharp in the first day of rookie minicamp. He navigated the pocket well – often regarded as a plus trait despite his 4.95 40-time. His arm was alive, which led to some darts but also a few throws that sailed.
The Falcons pushed the pace. Benkert, Calvin Ridley and others said the process was moving quickly.
“It was a whirlwind,” Benkert said. “But we’ve had time to learn the playbook and the coaches had time to get us prepared. Just going out there, completing the ball and getting it into guys’ hands. Trying to keep the ball safe was my goal.”
He just missed Ridley on a corner route that he recalled Ryan and Julio Jones connecting on early last season. He delivered a crisp throw down the middle of the field to tryout receiver Dallas Baldner.
He and Bryan Scott of Occidental College were the only signal-callers in camp.
“Once you get on the field and get in that pocket, training takes over,” Benkert said. “I have a lot of confidence in my arm that I can make any throw in the field. These receivers did a really good job, the line did a good job. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do, and when someone forgot what they’re supposed to do, there was always someone there to pick you up.”
Garrett Grayson is Benkert’s chief competition for the third quarterback job, if the Falcons elect to carry three. With Schaub now 36 years old, the franchise could search for a development quarterback to eventually fill the backup role.