Atlanta Falcons 2015 Training Camp Preview: Quarterback

Brett Davis-USA TODAY SportsKyle Shanahan (left) and Matt Ryan

For the seventh summer in a row the Atlanta Falcons have no real issues with their starting quarterback, as Matt Ryan has held the spot firmly since winning the job in 2008.

Ryan’s biggest obstacle this summer will be getting comfortable in the system that new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is installing. It shouldn’t be too much of a transition, as Shanahan will be bringing back some elements that Ryan is familiar with, such as more rollouts.

But there will be small details and nuances that Ryan will have to hammer down over the course of the summer, and only reps will accomplish that. Although if Ryan is looking for any tricks to mastering Shanahan’s offense, then all he simply has to do is just throw it to this guy!

The big issue surrounding the Falcons’ quarterback position this summer will once again be the competition to resolve which player will be backing up Ryan. For the second summer in a row, that battle will be waged between T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree.

The two were neck and neck by the end of summer, with Yates’ performance in the preseason finale a year ago giving just enough to edge out Renfree. This might be the summer where Renfree takes that next step and unseats Yates.

But no different than a year ago, Renfree has an uphill battle ahead of him. Yates is a veteran, and in the event of an injury to Ryan, there’s no doubt the team would be more comfortable with Yates, who has started seven career games, including two in the postseason and actually thrown passes in regular-season games. Coupled with the fact that Yates spent three years with the Houston Texans before joining the Falcons last summer via trade, means he’s fairly well-versed in Shanahan’s offense. Shanahan never coached Yates during his stint in Houston, but the differences between the former’s offense and that of Gary Kubiak, which Yates played in, is slight. It’s likely that one of the reasons for Yates’ sluggish performance last preseason was trying to learn former coordinator Dirk Koetter’s offense on the relative fly. Shanahan’s offense should be “old hat” to Yates, and thus he’ll be in a better position to play better.

Therefore most of the cards are stacked in Yates’ favor. However that doesn’t mean that Renfree doesn’t have a chance to win the competition. It only means that in the event of a tie, the winner will likely be Yates.

Renfree is now entering his third season, which means things need to begin to coalesce for him as a passer. Unfortunately, Renfree has the biggest learning curve for the new offense but will have to overcome that in order to stick this year. Unlike the previous regime that invested in a seventh-round pick in him in 2013, Dan Quinn’s staff has no real loyalty to him.

If Renfree is going to unseat Yates, he’ll have to clearly outplay him which wasn’t the case last summer. Renfree’s problem last year was that while he was consistently competent, he never did much of anything to take the idiomatic bull by the horns to outright win the job. He won’t get away with that this year and the same applies to Yates.

If the new coaching staff isn’t comfortable with either quarterback as being a twisted ankle from having to play, they could be compelled to seek someone else on the waiver wire. It’s likely that Shanahan has Rex Grossman on speed dial and it wouldn’t be the first time that the player that backs up Ryan on opening day wasn’t with the Falcons in training camp.

Another mild surprise is that the Falcons have opted against bringing a fourth arm to training camp for the first time in potentially forever. It’s a new emerging trend elsewhere in the NFL. The former coaching staff managed to bring fourth arms like Jeff Mathews and Seth Doege to camp the past two summers, but gave them almost no real playing time during the preseason. It would appear that still remaining elements in the previous regime realized that there was little gained by that and opted against adding a fourth quarterback to begin with.

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Aaron Freeman
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