Camp Battles 2012: QuarterbacksMatt Ryan is entering a pivotal year for his future in Atlanta. He has two years left on his contract including the 2012 season, and with him coming off his third consecutive playoff loss, there are questions whether Ryan is capable of leading the Falcons to the next level. Fortunately for Ryan, he’s not the first prominent quarterback to lose his first three playoff games. Somebody by the name of Peyton Manning entered his sixth season with an 0-3 postseason record, then helped lead the Colts to two playoff wins in 2003 with an eventual loss in the AFC Championship game to the New England Patriots. That 2003 season also marked Manning’s first MVP season, earning co-MVP honors alongside Steve McNair. While such expectations could be considered lofty for Ryan in 2012, it certainly means that the door hasn’t closed on Ryan’s ability to lead this team to greater overall success.
Hopefully helming that success will be new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Ryan has progressed and improved as an NFL passer each season he has been in the pros, and that is expected to continue under Koetter. The question remains how much improvement will Ryan have. Koetter intends to adopt more of a pass-oriented offense than under previous coordinator Mike Mularkey, now head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Reports indicate that Koetter will make continued use of the no-huddle offense that Ryan shined in under Mularkey. One of the key areas where Ryan must improve is on the deep passes. Ryan really struggled there throughout 2011, and a hallmark of Koetter’s scheme is the four verticals. It stresses vertical routes from the receivers which help open up opportunities underneath as well. But it is not very effective if the threat of the vertical strike is not present. Without significant improvement in that area, there will be a firm cap on how much progress and production Ryan can show in the new offense.
While there are questions about Ryan’s potential, there are none about his role as the starter. The Falcons brought back Chris Redman as a free agent, who is a strong bet to resume his fifth season as the primary backup to Ryan. The Falcons adopted the growing trend in the NFL last year by carrying two quarterbacks at the start of the season. Although the team did add a third passer to roster midway through the season in John Parker Wilson. Wilson served as the No. 3 quarterback in 2009 and 2010, but began last year on the practice squad. It remains to be seen if he will land the third spot on the roster this year. He remains still eligible to be on the practice squad in 2012. Wilson did not show a lot of progress last summer in his third year in the Mularkey offense, which likely led to the decision to cut him at the end of camp. He’ll have to show more this summer in Koetter’s offense to stick again. When the team first picked up Wilson as an undrafted rookie in 2009, it was likely with the intent to develop him as the long-term replacement for Redman. But that plan has yet to come to fruition, and without a strong summer the team could abandon that plan completely.
Hoping to alter their plans is undrafted rookie Dominique Davis out of East Carolina. Davis is a raw prospect with good arm strength and athleticism. But his footwork and mechanics are raw, and accuracy erratic, and he’s likely a long-term developmental prospect. But his ability to extend and make plays with his legs could be an intriguing asset for the Falcons. If Davis can showcase that athleticism during the preseason, he could certainly earn a practice squad spot. But he probably has only a slim chance of making the final roster as the No. 3 quarterback unless he has a really strong summer. Otherwise, Davis should be able to clear waivers and make it to the practice squad.
He and Wilson will be competing directly for the third spot, but there is no guarantee that the Falcons keep either player. Redman was only signed to a one-year deal and thus the priority for the Falcons could be looking to see if either Wilson or Davis are potentially ready to assume the role as No. 2 in the near future. If the answer is no, then it’s quite possible the Falcons pass on both and look elsewhere for a developmental backup.