Desmond Ridder: 'Dream' taking over as Falcons' starting QB

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Desmond Ridder left his Thursday morning conversation with Atlanta Falcons coach Arthur Smith, in which he found out he would be the team's new starting quarterback, and didn't tell a ton of people.

He went home and told his wife, Claire, and that was pretty much it. But this job -- the one he's been preparing for since he was drafted in the third round in April by the Falcons out of Cincinnati and well before that -- is a big deal.

"Excitement," Ridder said. "My dream was being a starting quarterback in the NFL, so I don't know what everyone's dream job was, but I'm sure if they got the call to do their dream job, they'd be pretty excited."

Ridder will make his first career start -- and throw the first regular-season pass of his NFL career -- Sunday against Atlanta's biggest rival, the Saints, in New Orleans. Ridder said he knows it'll be a raucous environment at Caesars Superdome and that it'll be something he'll have to handle. Ridder said he'll have around six family members in New Orleans.

When Ridder found out he was being named the starter, he got together whoever he could among pass-catchers to see whether they would be able to throw with him at the team's facility during the off week. That didn't include everyone, but it gave him enough of a feel to start working with those he'll play with -- including running back Tyler Allgeier and receiver Drake London, two other members of the 2022 rookie class.

"That's why I did it," Ridder said. "To feel as comfortable as I can when I get out there on Sunday. And whether it's after practice every day, in between periods every day, just trying to find ways to get as comfortable as possible."

Ridder and London threw, at least a little, daily at practice during the team's special teams periods. Often, quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Ridder -- and now Ridder and backup Logan Woodside -- work on a separate field with London, quarterbacks coach Charles London and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone throwing to different spots on the field. When tight end Kyle Pitts was healthy, he was there as well. So, too, was since-released receiver Bryan Edwards.

The difference Wednesday was Ridder was taking reps first as the starter as opposed to Mariota, who has been put on injured reserve and will have surgery to repair a knee issue next week. It's a different room, too. Between he and Woodside, they've thrown three NFL passes -- all by Woodside in 2020. Ridder said he has talked with Woodside, Mariota (who told him he would be there for him if he needs anything) and the team's veteran offensive linemen for help.

Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews said Ridder received reps "here and there" before this week and that they have "a good feel for him." Matthews said Ridder's first full practice as a starter went well and that there was a level of comfortability already.

Drake London said "only time will tell" whether the change in quarterback will benefit him -- he has 47 catches for 533 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie -- but he's happy for his classmate and friend to get the chance.

"Seeing him finally get his shot is really, really cool to see," London said. "Just to see that smile again, you know."

It's the first time since the New York Jets in Week 1 of the 2021 season that a quarterback room has had fewer than four passes thrown in NFL games, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Zach Wilson and Mike White had no regular-season pass attempts heading into that game.

In college, Ridder was 810-of-1,304 for 10,239 yards, 87 touchdowns and 28 interceptions. He also ran the ball 501 times for 2,180 yards and 28 touchdowns. Atlanta selected Ridder in the third round of this year's draft, the second quarterback taken behind first-round pick Kenny Pickett to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ridder, 23, said that being the starter has sort of hit him -- particularly when he was standing in front of a media scrum, something he hadn't done since training camp -- but that he is prepared for it. The only difference in his prep, he said, was some of the media obligations.

"My advice to him this week is don't change anything that we've done," Charles London said. "You have a routine. We know how to prep. We know how we approach a game and my approach to him is don't change anything."

Ridder said a month ago that he didn't know whether he was fully ready for this. Now, he believes he's fully prepared but he knows he won't truly know that until Sunday.

"You can't know you're fully prepared, but you can prepare to the fullest," Ridder said. Then he smiled, in kind of a rookie way. "I'm going to try and make a quote there."

Over the past two months, Ridder's preparation has increased dramatically. He understands more nuance in the playcalls and the verbiage needed to communicate with the players in the offensive huddle. Through nightly play recitation sessions with his wife and using Quizlet to link formation and playcall together, he started to finish the playcalls during post-practice sessions with Charles London and players before he would even finish the start of the playcall.

It has all led to the past week for Ridder, who will become the sixth quarterback from the 2022 draft class to play in a game Sunday.

"It's excitement," outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter said. "The young guy is going to have his chance so that's what he's prepared for."