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Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith looks on during their NFL minicamp football practice Tuesday, June 14, 2022, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

PA

Desmond Ridder impressed himself – and coach Arthur Smith – with his ability to quickly absorb the Atlanta Falcons playbook.

Ridder is still considered veteran Marcus Mariota’s challenger in the Falcons’ quarterback competition. Based on his strong start in mandatory minicamp and rookie camp, Ridder, Cincinnati’s third-round pick, could gain ground quickly when training camp opens on July 26.

Smith doesn’t easily throw compliments, especially to rookies. It was remarkable when he praised Ridder on Wednesday.

“He’s light years ahead of most other young quarterbacks from the neck down,” Smith said of Ridder. “I’ll give him that compliment.”

Mariota is expected to open the season as a starter as the Falcons go through 14 seasons with Matt Ryan playing nearly every game. The Falcons signed Mariota the same day they traded Ryan to Indianapolis, then drafted Ridder as a possible long-term option.

Mariota, 28, served as a mentor to Ridder. Mariota said Ridder had “been a sponge” during off-season training.

“I told him not to be shy about asking questions and I think when you have the confidence and the courage to be able to ask questions, I think you’re able to experience things and learn things a lot more. quickly,” Mariota said.

“You have to give him a lot of credit. He does a great job of just being in the book, trying to learn. He understands that you are going to come here and that you are going to make mistakes. That’s part of it. But it’s just learning from experience and I think he did a great job throughout camp.

Ridder proves to be a quick learner. He said after Tuesday’s first minicamp practice that he was surprised by his “overall knowledge of the offense.”

“Honestly, I’m not going to lie, I thought I was going to come in and struggle a bit,” Ridder said. “We have almost completed all our installations and implemented all these checks. I have a good idea. That kind of surprised me, honestly, you know? I’m not going to say I wouldn’t have picked it up, but I thought it would take me a little longer, a few more days. But I managed to find my way around quite easily. »

When asked when he felt comfortable with his knowledge of the playbook and terminology, Ridder replied “About the last week”.

“Just the flow, the way it comes out of my sentences in the command huddle that I have at the line of scrimmage to just see the defense and also see the offense. It all came to me.

Ridder’s confidence is good news for Smith, who said the rookie is “definitely doing a good job.”

“He’s very smart,” Smith said before adding “Obviously he has to keep improving…but behind the scenes there are things he’s done that have impressed me as a recruit.”

Smith listed “how he operates, his tours, duties and facilities and on the ground and his command” as ways Ridder impressed.

Now let’s move on to the physical part of the game. This test comes in training camp and pre-season games.

“You’re betting on some of the physical stuff that you’ve seen in time to catch up,” Smith said.

Ridder was only the second quarterback selected in the NFL Draft. Pitt’s Kenny Pickett was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round.

Ridder led Cincinnati to the college football playoffs last season, throwing 30 touchdown passes. He set a school career record with 87 assists.

The Falcons plan to carry just three quarterbacks to training camp, even though Feleipe Franks is spending time at tight end. The plan allows the Falcons to secure repeats for Mariota and Ridder at the top of the depth chart.

NOTES: The Falcons wrapped up their second and final practice at minicamp with a heated competition between offensive and defensive linemen catching punts. What was at stake was whether the attack or defense would be allowed to skip sprints after practice. Offensive lineman Ryan Neuzil ran to catch the final punt, giving the offense a win. Sophomore Neuzil was then lifted onto the shoulders of his teammates as the hero of the day. Smith said he was taking the players to a Top Golf outing on Thursday to wrap up minicamp.

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