John Parker Wilson’s name has pinged the radar of Falcons fans twice this off-season. The first was when he became the face of Verizon Wireless’ “Know it Forward” anti-sexual assault campaign. The second was when his name was mentioned in articles discussing the team’s player-organized workouts due to his ability to help his ex-Crimson Tide teammate Julio Jones get acclimated to the Falcons offense.
That’s exactly two more times than anything we’ve seen to date from Wilson.
Wilson was arguably the top prospect among a 2009 class of undrafted quarterbacks that have managed to make some minor waves since. In New England, Brian Hoyer has carved out a niche as the No. 2 behind Tom Brady. Chase Daniel is carrying the clipboard behind Drew Brees in New Orleans. Graham Harrell is expected to push Matt Flynn behind Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay this summer. And Hunter Cantwell has an opportunity to compete for the No. 2 spot behind Joe Flacco in Baltimore this season.
All five players have arguably done as much to date as any of the eight non-first round quarterbacks drafted ahead of them (the most notable of which is the Colts’ Curtis Painter).
Wilson will face a similar challenge this summer to what Chase Daniel faced a year ago with the Saints. Daniel faced direct competition against veteran Patrick Ramsey for who would claim the No. 2 spot behind Brees. Daniel won.
It’s unlikely that the competition that Wilson faces with veteran Chris Redman will result in a zero sum in which one stays and the other goes. But there is that potential, if Wilson can put together a strong summer.
The ability to do so will be dependent on if the league and players can come to an agreement which will not shorten training camp and the preseason. Wilson will likely need all four games to put up enough of a body of work for the Falcons brass to place that much trust in him.
An extended lockout and continued labor strife could eliminiate preseason games, limiting how many opportunities Wilson can show up Redman. Because even Wilson cannot force Redman into early retirement, a strong summer could mean he could still pass him on the depth chart and become the top backup to Matt Ryan.
Wilson’s play over the next few months may have more impact on the future of Redman, than Redman himself. The better Wilson plays, the less likely the Falcons opt to keep Redman beyond this year, as 2011 is a contract year for him.
Also the better Redman plays this year, if he is successful in holding off Wilson might also increase his chances that he is not a Falcon in 2012. If Redman is an admirable fill-in for Ryan at any point during this year’s regular season, he could become a more valuable commodity on the open market for teams looking for veteran stopgaps to keep seats warm for developing rookies. It’s a role that it was rumored the St. Louis Rams were interested in Redman for a year ago before they settled on A.J. Feeley as the player to bridge the gap to the Sam Bradford Era.
One team that might be looking to acquire Redman sooner rather than later is the Minnesota Vikings, who hired former Falcons quarterback coach Bill Musgrave to helm their offense this season. Musgrave coached Musgrave coached Redman for four seasons in Atlanta, and they are in the market for a veteran stopgap and/or insurance policy ahead of or behind 2011 first rounder Christian Ponder.
But if the Falcons front office was willing to make such a deal before the 2011 season began, it would again be dependent on good Wilson looks.
Where the lockout might actually be helping Wilson is the fact that he might be building a stronger rapport with Falcons top pick Julio Jones. As the quarterback on the team when Jones was a freshman at Alabama, there is already somewhat of an established rapport between the two.
And every rep that occurs between the two in player-organized activities (and not between Redman and Jones) means that the two could hit the ground running whenever camp does start, especially if Jones initially is working with the second-team units. And it certainly won’t hurt that Jones is a potenital playmaker that could dominate the lesser competition of opposing team’s reserves in preseason games. Even if Jones does almost all the legwork by breaking a non-descript 10-yard throw 40 yards for a score, it’s a positive for Wilson if he’s the one that made the throw.
Redman has a strong arm and is a capable vertical passer. Where Redman has gotten into trouble as a Falcon is his propensity to gamble at times with throws down the field, as well as his subpar pocket management skills and athleticism, which cause him to take a few too many sacks.
Wilson is a better athlete and will need to showcase that ability to create a little bit when the pressure is on. He too possesses a good arm. He needs to show improved understanding of the team’s offense. Too often last summer in his extensive playing time he was staring down his initial read and forcing some throws. The ability to go through progressions comfortably and quickly and the velocity and accuracy to anticipate throws will define whether Wilson is the team’s top reserve behind Ryan this year as well as next.
The lack of the normal off-season is likely to hurt Wilson more than help him. And increased reps with Jones might only be a minor consolation prize. But the unusual off-season may also hurt Redman. And the more equal footing that they can enter this summer with is advantageous for Wilson.
And with the unorthodox proceedings of this spring and summer, any player that can hit the ground running when camps and/or the regular season eventually rolls around, will be taken strongly into account when final rosters are decided. Coaches love a player that is a self-starter and can manage himself when left to his own devices. That’s one less thing that they have to worry about, and it will show that Wilson can improve and develop even if he isn’t actively getting reps during team-run practices. That trait is more important than anything that deals with arm strength and athleticism, because that is indicative of intangibles, the most enigmatic, coveted, and advantageous tool an NFL quarterback can possess.