Falcons QB Desmond Ridder has been quietly preparing for this moment – ESPN – Atlanta Falcons Blog

Michael RothsteinESPN staff writerJul 10, 2023, 6:00 AM ET4 minute reading

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder completed 63.5% of his passes and threw for two touchdowns in four games started last season after taking over for Marcus Mariota.Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — Desmond Ridder lingered on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium field late on a Friday afternoon. His team — now his team as the starting quarterback — had finished a public practice about half an hour earlier. He had gone to sign autographs with his teammates and take pictures with fans.

And now he was hanging out around the 20-yard line with his wife, Claire, and daughter, Leighton. A year ago, everything was new. He hadn’t thrown a professional pass in a game here. He was a backup trying to navigate the speed, footwork and everything involved in the transition from a college quarterback to a pro.

There is still much to learn now, to become familiar with. Still so much news, as to be the player the team is looking for in the offseason; the one who leads the off-site sessions with quarterbacks and pass-catchers. He’s settling into becoming the starting quarterback he always thought he could be.

When Atlanta inserted Ridder as the starter in place of Marcus Mariota for the final four games of the 2022 season, he completed 63.5% of his passes and threw for two touchdowns. More importantly, Ridder threw no interceptions — a streak of 115 attempts and counting — and gained experience he couldn’t have in his first 13 games watching from the sideline.

“The four games for me and then obviously coming into the offseason was crucial for me,” Ridder said. “It would be completely different if I hadn’t played a single snap last year. And then comes into this year and is named the starter.

“Then have the four games under for me, just to get the feel, the speed, what it’s like. That was crucial for me.”

It gave him an understanding of what he had to do and allowed him to approach spring and summer differently.

Ridder has adapted before, including mid-season last year when he realized his learning strategy wasn’t yielding the best results. He started using Quizlet and playing recitation with Claire, which helped him eventually become the starter.

In his studies, he learned ways to be more effective, both on the field and in his preparation. He realized he didn’t have to be there all day, every day to accomplish everything, something echoed by his coaches in working smarter, not necessarily longer.

“Just to get up, get in early, knock it out, get everything you need done,” Ridder said. “And then go to work.”

Knight chooses something in his game to choose day by day. Last year, for example, he knew he had to know everyone’s job along with his own. This year he needs to know where each person should be on each piece. Last spring, he might have worried every time he threw. In the spring, he was more concerned with the process and whether the decision and the footwork were right.

Another day he will look at his stride – was it short enough or was he overstepping – and then try to change it. He is constantly focused on his footwork and making sure his reads are correct.

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said Ridder was making “daily improvements,” though he knows Atlanta won’t know Ridder’s exact growth until training camp, joint practices and preseason games where there’s more contact and hitting than 7-on-7 and easy 11-on-11 work without contact.

But the Falcons saw enough in Ridder last season to make him the starter instead of pursuing other options. They liked how he adjusted throughout the games, how he handled critical situations like third down and red zone. Smith liked his leadership and his anticipation, comparing it to a highly skilled point guard who can see where things are going before they do.

“I think he has,” Smith said. “There are many things that we can ask him to anticipate, or wait a cross, and not everyone can do it, but he can. He has shown that so far. It gives us a lot of hope, and every system is also a little different.”

The feedback Ridder gives during meetings inside the quarterback room, offensive coordinator Dave Ragone said, and the types of questions he asks matter. It shows he understands the information, another point of promise for the second-year quarterback.

“The better questions that come back and the more understanding they have,” Ragone said. “The further you can take it.”

Last year, Atlanta went with Ridder in an offense built around a different quarterback. This year, the offense will be different, more catered to what Ridder can do. The Falcons had a plan for him from the time they drafted him: Give him a lot and see what he can do, but don’t rush him into playing until they felt he was ready.

That’s part of why the 23-year-old Knight didn’t start until last month-plus of last season. Atlanta instilled confidence. It can show dividends now.

“I’d say I’m pretty comfortable,” Ridder said. “Overall, far more pleasant than last year.”

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