FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Desmond Ridder went home after practice, pulled up the voice recorder app on his iPhone, hit record and started to speak. He looked at the script of playcalls from practice and went through each one, reading the proper cadence and language he needed to articulate.
Then the Atlanta Falcons rookie quarterback put in his AirPods, hit play and pretended like it was Falcons coach Arthur Smith calling the plays in through his helmet on game day. It was his way of trying to quickly learn as the third-round pick transitions from a standout career at Cincinnati to the NFL.
“Being able to pick them up and spit them out, that’s kind of just been my challenge,” Ridder said. “And where I’ve been able to grow the most throughout this entire thing.”
The recitation was a trick picked up from multiple people over the past six months as he has worked to make this transition. So much of what has been done in May and June has little to do with the physical -- he has yet to face a fully padded professional pass rush yet -- but what he has done in mental preparation has been noticeable.
This isn’t to say he’s going to unseat veteran Marcus Mariota, who was signed in March, anytime soon. Mariota has looked like the player who will be the team’s starting quarterback to begin the season, but Ridder has been learning from the former Tennessee Titans starter and No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft since Mariota showed up for the start of OTAs.
Ridder said he has gleaned a ton from Mariota, from his approach to watching film to managing coverages to how he takes care of his body both on and off the field. They also meet every morning to go over the play script for the day, and Ridder picks up nuances then too.
Like everything else, that has been valuable for his development, starting by learning how to navigate a huddle and spit out more complex playcalls than he had to worry about at Cincinnati.
Ridder has fully immersed himself in everything Falcons playbook related. He’s texting quarterbacks coach Charles London at night with more questions he didn’t get answered during the day and embraced that there’s a lot he doesn’t yet know.
London has spent his time not as worried about whether Ridder completes a pass in minicamp versus everything else leading up to it -- how did he command the offense, how did he handle an unfamiliar situation, the reading of the playcall, spotting a change in coverage pre-play. These are the areas they wanted Ridder to pay attention to during his first month in the NFL.
These were also aspects they could tell during their scouting process. But what they couldn’t know for sure was how he’d mesh with other players because one can try to predict human personalities, but until you get people in a room together, you don’t totally know. And that has gone well.
Ridder immediately became a leader of the younger players during rookie minicamp. And in veteran minicamp, he has appeared largely comfortable.
“Guys kind of gravitate to him,” London said. “He’s a natural leader, and leadership is hard. It’s hard to judge somebody’s leadership. People can tell you he’s a leader, but most guys that are really great leaders, they lead by their own style, their own way.”
Ridder is more about personal communication. He has started taking time to talk with and learn about his pass-catchers individually in small conversations. It’s how he handled things at Cincinnati too.
That includes taking time in the offseason before training camp to work with rookie receiver Drake London -- and possibly others -- in California, where both of them train.
Those are some of the things not necessarily visible in Ridder’s development, like throwing an accurate post route or a well-timed ball on an outbreaking route. If there are mechanical things to work on, London said they address it, but for now, it’s about making sure he learns everything.
The rest will come after Ridder has an initial grasp on everything. And it’s there where he already has made an impression.
“Some of the physical things you’ll see in time will catch up,” Smith said. “But he’s light-years ahead of most young quarterbacks from the neck up, and I will give him that compliment.”