The Atlanta Falcons enter training camp for the first time since 2008 with some concerns at the quarterback position.
That is because since quarterback Matt Ryan took over the position eight years ago, he is coming off one of his worst seasons of his career. Last season was plagued by untimely interceptions and turnovers by Ryan, matching his career high of 21 turnovers including 16 interceptions and five fumbles. That number of interceptions could have even potentially been higher according to Football Outsiders.
Deciphering exactly why Ryan struggled in his first year under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has been debated throughout the past year and offseason. But regardless of the cause of the problems, it’s clear that the Falcons must get more from their starting quarterback this upcoming season, which begins this summer.
Unfortunately the preseason doesn’t offer too much insight as Ryan had little issue last summer in limited action outside a game against the Miami Dolphins that saw him pressured heavily. Yet if anything, there is hope that Ryan can regain any and all lost confidence with strong play this summer as he tries to build a rapport with a new influx of receivers in Mohamed Sanu, Austin Hooper, Devin Fuller and Aldrick Robinson. As well as expanding what he already established with last year’s additions in Justin Hardy and Jacob Tamme opposite his favorite target in Pro Bowl wideout Julio Jones.
Beyond Ryan’s improvement however, much of the focus at quarterback during training camp will be on the competition for the backup job.
It will center on the brewing battle between veterans Sean Renfree, Matt Schaub and Matt Simms. Renfree is the incumbent, having won the battle between himself and T.J. Yates last summer. He wound up seeing his first NFL action since being drafted by the Falcons in 2013, earning “cleanup duty” in a pair of blowouts last season. But clearly the Falcons brass weren’t that impressed with Renfree, otherwise the team wouldn’t have brought in Schaub via free agency this past March.
Schaub was originally drafted by the Falcons in 2004 but was subsequently traded to the Houston Texans in 2007. Since a disastrous 2013 campaign in Houston, Schaub has served as a journeyman reserve with the Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens the past two seasons. The Falcons considered signing Schaub a year ago, but ultimately decided to go with Yates and Renfree competing behind Ryan.
Upon his return to Atlanta, the Falcons hope Schaub can channel what he was in his earliest NFL days: a quality reserve behind starter Michael Vick. That level of reserve play has been somewhat fleeting for the veteran quarterback since he left Houston.
While his experience and salary makes Schaub the front-runner to win the backup spot behind Ryan, he won’t be handed anything from head coach Dan Quinn’s coaching staff that prioritizes competition.
Schaub’s experience running Shanahan’s scheme from their shared days in Houston in 2008 and 2009 will certainly give him leg up in any battle between himself and Renfree, but it still won’t guarantee him a spot. After a year of working within the scheme, Renfree is by no means a greenhorn and should show a greater command than he did a year ago.
If the battle is close Schaub will likely be given the benefit of the doubt since his 92 career starts should make the coaching staff a bit more confident that he can handle spot duties should Ryan be out of the lineup for any reason.
The Falcons likely intend to only keep two quarterbacks on the roster entering the 2016 regular season, something that has been the case for two of the past three years. However it’s not impossible that the team opts to keep three, particularly if Renfree or Simms play well this summer.
If Renfree shows a greater mastery of Shanahan’s offense this summer, the team might opt to keep him over Schaub outright. In the case of Simms it’s very unlikely that he can win the No. 2 job, but he could certainly play well enough to be kept on the roster as a third quarterback behind one of the other two passers.
As has often been the case the past several summers, the competition for the backup job will likely come down to the fourth and final preseason game before a winner is declared. But unlike previous years, a lot more attention is going to be paid to the performances of the starter in Ryan in the preceding outings.
It should all make for a much more compelling training camp than usual when it comes to the Falcons’ quarterback position.