FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It went surprisingly well. Were there mistakes made by quarterback Desmond Ridder in his preseason Atlanta Falcons debut? Yeah, of course. He’s a rookie. It’s going to happen.
But one game into what he hopes is a long NFL career, it went about as smoothly as one could hope, especially playing with second- and third-team players.
“It wasn’t that much faster than college,” Ridder said. “I was just going out here, making my reads and doing what I’m doing every single day out here. I felt like I was comfortable.”
Part of that is surprising because, well, rookies are supposed to feel uncomfortable when all this starts. And maybe if the third-round pick gets a chance with the starters at some point this preseason or regular season with the Falcons behind starting quarterback Marcus Mariota, those speed differences will come.
There were things, for sure, he was displeased with, like an interception he threw that was overturned due to a roughing the passer call. There were some incompletions. He knows what his stat line was -- 10 of 22 for 103 yards and two touchdowns -- and that, on first glance, might not look good.
But there were other factors, not that Ridder would blame anyone else. There were multiple drops -- by coach Arthur Smith’s count, four -- from pass-catchers. On one play, Ridder was told to throw it out of bounds. There were a couple of his own miscues, too.
At the end of minicamp in June, Smith praised Ridder’s studies and mental side of being a quarterback. They couldn’t really judge the physical yet. Now, with weeks of camp practice and a preseason game, they’ve started to get a read on him.
He's a smart player who had good command of the offense early on. He picks things up quickly. And something they were able to grasp for the first time Friday -- because it can only truly be felt in a game -- was his internal clock.
“We always tell him he has to listen to his feet,” quarterbacks coach Charles London said. “You want calm feet when you’re in the pocket as a quarterback and when your feet start to hurry up, your clock is probably about to run out.
“I thought he did a good job of realizing when his time was up or when he needed to take off or when he needed to progress on to his next read.”
Ridder rushed six times for 59 yards, which led the team. How Ridder ran and anticipated when he needed to run was something coaches saw during scouting in Cincinnati and confirmed to them in an actual game against Detroit.
The plan for Ridder has been to get him a bunch of work in the preseason so they could better evaluate him. That’s meant a lot of reps in practice while pass-catchers rotated through, three quarters in last Friday’s preseason opener and probably many more snaps to come.
Atlanta has two full-time quarterbacks on the roster this preseason -- Mariota and Ridder -- and part of the reasoning has been to make sure they both are getting enough work to be comfortable with an offense and a personnel group they have never played with before.
Mariota, whom Ridder called almost like a fourth coach to him, has been invaluable in Ridder’s development.
“When something’s not right and I know he’s been in that situation before and I just go and ask him, ‘OK, so Coach said this, how do we really want it?’" Ridder said. “He comes back and gives me an answer and just makes things run more smoothly.”
When something is drawn up in the meetings and then on the field it’s faster or different, he’ll go to Mariota for help. Mariota has been open to Ridder throughout camp, willing to help and mentor while also preparing himself for the starting gig. Mariota has often said he has been in so many different roles in his career his ego is long gone, so he just wants to help where he can.
“If you can help guys -- especially the younger guys -- out, it’s ultimately going to make your team better,” Mariota said. “So, I do whatever I can. I pass along as much information as I can to him, whatever he wants to absorb.”
So far, one game in, it has been working. Ridder isn’t in a position to be a starter yet but so far, one exhibition down and six days of work against other teams before the start of the regular season to go, there has been some really good progress.