Training camp for the Atlanta Falcons opened on Thursday and while the bigger names took to the stage to speak to media, the lesser names were quietly reporting and getting ready to go about their business. Training camp for established players is by no means easy but for many they can at least relax early on and enjoy returning to work with their teammates. However, for the lesser known players thing are a little bit different. At every position there are players who will be desperately trying to impress their coaches. For them every snap, every throw and every tackle is important. Therefore, throughout training camp we will be taking a look at these battles and giving our thoughts on them. First up it is the turn of the quarterback.
There is no battle here. Matt Ryan has just been handed a huge contract extension and is assured of being the start. For Ryan camp is just about getting into sync with his receivers, especially rookie Calvin Ridley.
This is where it starts to potentially get interesting. As of now Matt Schaub is the Falcons backup, having been with them since 2016. However, if Schaub has an awful training camp there is every possibility the Falcons could move on him. A few things do make that unlikely.
Firstly, having a backup quarterback who can step in and be solid is crucial in today’s NFL. With the concussion protocol there is every chance that at any moment the backup QB may have to at least come in and take a couple of snaps, and possibly take over for the remainder of the game. What you need in that situation is an established backup who can come in, be smart and look after the ball. Looking after the ball has often been an issue for Schaub in his career, but when you are backing up someone like Matt Ryan it is reasonable to think you are unlikely to be as aggressive as you were when you were a starter and trying to remain there.
The second thing in Schaub’s favor is the hiring of the new quarterback coach, Greg Knapp. Knapp has worked with Schaub before and was his quarterback coach when Schaub had the best year of his career in Houston. Knapp’s addition to the roster will primarily be based on his previous work with veteran quarterbacks. However, I am sure the Falcons have considered his history with Schaub, just in case they have to rely on Schaub at some point.
The #3 Situation
The #3 quarterback spot is the truly interesting one. The Falcons came into 2018 with Garrett Grayson on the roster as the incumbent. However, they then went out and drafted Kurt Benkert out of Virginia, who will get the chance to challenge Grayson. So what do these two guys potentially bring to the table?
Grayson spent last season on the Falcons practice squad having signed with them in October. Grayson’s signing in 2017 may have served two purposes. Naturally he provided them with a quarterback option who had practiced with the team if Ryan went down and he was required to serve as Schaub’s backup. However, the other aspect may have been his time with the New Orleans Saints in 2015 and 2016. Signing a player from your chief rivals in the hope of getting an edge on their play calls is nothing new and the Falcons may have had some of that in mind when adding Grayson to the roster.
The question is now can Grayson remain on the roster into 2018. Over a year removed from the Saints offense he probably cannot offer too much more insight into their offense at this stage. Therefore, he needs to rely on his ability to remain around the Falcons into the season. His knowledge of this offense from being around the team for a year will give him an edge but he will need to impress in camp as well.
Grayson did come out of college with some decent numbers. The Colorado State graduate put up 7,702 passing yards with 55 passing touchdowns and 18 interceptions. However, he is yet to throw a pass in an NFL game, so relatively he is a complete unknown.
Benkert showed a lot of promise in college, throwing for 5,759 yards with 46 touchdowns and 20 interceptions at Virginia. Benkert did get an invitation to the Senior Bowl but failed to impress. Despite being ranked 14th among quarterbacks by WalterFootball.com there was interest in Benkert from around the NFL. What the young quarterback lacks in athleticism he makes up for with his deep ball accuracy. With the ability to throw a good deep ball also comes the ability to throw well to the sidelines thanks to his arm strength. As with many college quarterbacks he still needs to get work under center and learn to speed up to the pro game. However, many people think Benkert can be molded into at least a decent backup quarterback in the NFL.
The Final Word
We know Ryan is locked in as the starter and I would say there is an 80% chance that Schaub is the backup when camp breaks. My belief is that the number three competition is for a spot on the practice squad. Due to Mohammed Sanu’s ability to throw passes the Falcons can afford to carry just two QBs and then look to use Sanu if there was a real disaster.
As for who wins that practice squad spot, my money is on the rookie Benkert. Coming out of college there was just enough intrigue surrounding him that the Falcons may see him as the backup of the future. However, with Schaub in the last year of his current deal they will want to make sure whoever they keep around at least has the ability to challenge to be the backup next season. If Benkert fails to show the progress the Falcons hope in camp they may decide that Grayson is the safer option.