Open competition good for Falcons’ rookie free agents

A couple of hours after Falcons coach Mike Smith called the No. 2 quarterback competition “wide open” the team announced the signing of T.J. Yates, a veteran who would seem to be locked in as veteran Matt Ryan’s backup.

Yet that’s not the way Smith saw it the day after the move, insisting that not many jobs are secure.

“On our roster our guys know it, they’ve been told: It doesn’t matter where you were drafted, it doesn’t matter what you did last year, it doesn’t matter how many zeroes are on your paycheck,” Smith said. “The best 53 guys are going to play.”

Assuming such talk is not just for motivation and Smith makes good on his pledge, then players such as wide receiver Bernard Reedy and quarterback Jeff Mathews could be in position to win roster spots.

Both players are rookies who were not selected in the draft in May. Each earned praise from Smith during organized team activities and the minicamp last week and will have momentum when the Falcons begin training camp practice on July 25.

“They have gone what we’ve been through and they have a feel for it,” Smith said of the team’s free-agent rookies. “My big point is about competition. We are going to compete and, to me, that’s the most important thing. That’s what is fun about the game of football and any athletic endeavor is going out there and competing.”

Rookies who don’t get drafted face long odds to make the team, but the Falcons’ group need only look to last season to see that they could earn a real chance.

Linebackers Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu and wide receiver Darius Johnson were invited to Falcons camp after not getting drafted. All ended up playing significant roles for the Falcons after injuries and ineffective play by veterans gave them a chance.

At the moment it appears Falcons cornerback Devonta Glover-Wright will have a hard time making the roster. The former Smyrna Campbell High star is behind last season’s starters, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, as well as veteran addition Josh Wilson. The Falcons also selected Purdue’s Ricardo Allen in the fifth round of the draft.

But Glover-Wright, a Utah State product, said he’s buoyed by Smith’s call for real competition for jobs.

“I came out a little shaky but I’m progressing every day,” he said. “That’s my goal is to get better every day. Competing is in my nature. I’m getting comfortable.”

Reedy turned heads during practices with his exceptional speed. On a few passing plays during minicamp he ran past defenders in the secondary, with only Alford appearing to have the speed to chase him down.

With Roddy White and Julio Jones both sitting out minicamp practices Reedy, a Toledo product, was among the young receivers to get extensive repetitions with Ryan.

“He’s fast,” Smith said. “You can see him make up a lot of ground for a small guy. I think he’s helped himself immensely. I think it’s going to be very competitive when you start talking about who’s going to be (Nos.) five or six at the wide receiver position. He’s done a nice job and he’s got exceptional quickness and overall speed.”

If the Falcons continue with their custom of carrying just two quarterbacks on the roster then Mathews will be competing with Yates and Sean Renfree for a job. The Falcons selected Renfree in the seventh round of the 2013 draft and then placed him on injured reserve after he suffered a shoulder injury in the final exhibition game.

Smith said he likes the arm strength and intelligence of Mathews, who played at Cornell. Mathews said Smith’s declaration about open competition is motivation.

“That’s exciting,” Mathews said. “That’s what you want to hear. I think coach does an unbelievable job of breeding competition. That’s what you want as a player is make sure you can compete for a job. That’s what I’m here for.”

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