By STEVE WYCHE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/11/06
Flowery Branch â€” Matt Schaub and T.J. Duckett spent the summer unsure if they would be back with the Falcons. Teams called, checking to see if either player was available in a trade.
Schaub is the backup quarterback some teams wanted to be their starter. Duckett is the burly running back whose North-South running style might fit better elsewhere than in the Falcons' cutback scheme. Both are in the last year of their respective contracts.
Duckett will be an unrestricted free agent, meaning he can sign with any team. However Schaub, because of only being in the league three years, will be a restricted free agent, which allows the Falcons the right to match any offer or receive compensation.
Solid showings, beginning with Friday's preseason opener against the New England Patriots at the Georgia Dome, could bring security, larger roles and sizeable contracts in Atlanta or some place else. Inconsistency or regression and their attractiveness could plummet, as could their negotiating leverage.
"You don't want to think about those outside factors too much," said Schaub, who has lost both his career starts, completing 66 of 134 passes for 825 yards and five touchdowns in two seasons. "You want to keep focused on what you have to do to be successful in these preseason games and let the chips fall where they may."
Added Duckett: "Playing hard. That's all I'm concerned about. I'm not worried about anything else."
The Falcons' four preseason games are crucial for both players, albeit for different reasons.
For Schaub, playing behind Michael Vick, they could be the only chance he gets to showcase himself. For Duckett, he has to bounce back from a sub-par 2005 season and hold off rookie Jerious Norwood, who coaches feel will one day take over for Warrick Dunn as the starter. That was the same thing said about Duckett when he was drafted in the first round in 2002.
"The plan for [Schaub] is not to have him play beyond the last preseason game," coach Jim Mora said.
That is every team's plan, but starting quarterbacks get injured and the success of any season often falls on the strength of the No. 2 quarterback.
That is why the Falcons refused to part with Schaub, even for defensive end John Abraham, who the Falcons eventually acquired from the New York Jets by trading a first-round draft pick.
Vick has never started all 16 games and he's gotten nicked during games, allowing Schaub to prove himself as a potential starter â€” one day.
Against New England last season, Schaub rallied Atlanta from 14- and 15-point deficits and completed 18 of 34 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns but the Patriots won 31-28. Schaub also filled in for Vick against Seattle, Minnesota, Carolina and New Orleans. Those performances along with how he played in the preseason piqued plenty of interest around the league.
Continued progress and teams might be willing to part with a first-round draft pick (and possible a third rounder) to sign Schaub in the offseason.
"I'll just keep doing things the way I've done the best two years. Just go out, play at a high level and try to compete and do my job and help the offense score points," Schaub said.
Though the urgency to perform well in preseason doesn't seem as great for Duckett because he will play in the regular season, he must excel in order to hold off Norwood and accentuate his worth to the Falcons and potential suitors.
Like Schaub, Duckett said thinking too far down the line could do more harm than good.
"I'm not trying to do anything special," Duckett said. "I'll play every down as hard as I can and whatever happens, happens."