The quarterback position behind Matt Ryan looks vastly different as the Falcons head into 2014 Training Camp, and perhaps most importantly, there’s some experience behind Matty Ice as insurance.
Ryan finished the 2013 campaign being hit more times than ever in his career while getting taken down for 44 sacks. Even still, he was able to finish in the top 5 in many of the NFL’s top passing categories, which should bode well for a 2014 season that features a revamped offensive line designed to protect the franchise quarterback.
There’s still some youth behind Ryan, but with the addition of TJ Yates via trade at the end of veteran minicamp, there’s now some significant game experience to draw on should the unthinkable happen.
Matt Ryan: No one wants to see Ryan go through a year where he’s under as much duress as he faced in 2013, especially Ryan himself. With key additions to the offensive line, like guard Jon Asamoah and first-round tackle Jake Matthews on the right side, and the healthy return of Sam Baker at left tackle, Ryan could have much more time to go through his progressions and find his talented receivers this season. Roddy White and Julio Jones are slated to be healthy at the start of training camp, and having his top two targets back will be a welcome change for Ryan, who helped turn Harry Douglas into a 1,000-yard receiver last season. With all that’s around him on paper right now, it’s not far fetched to believe Ryan should be in the early talk for MVP honors.
Sean Renfree: A forgotten man at quarterback after landing on injured reserve before the 2013 season began, Renfree has shown a lot of promise in the offseason program and could compete for a backup spot behind Ryan. Renfree was a seventh-round selection by the Falcons out of Duke in the 2013 NFL Draft and was kept over last year’s backup Dominique Davis. Renfree started 36 games at Duke and completed 64.7 percent of his passes in his career there. At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he presents a sizable backup option at signal-caller.
TJ Yates: Fans were surprised when the Falcons made a trade during veteran minicamp to bring Yates to Atlanta while sending special teamer Akeem Dent to Houston, but when general manager Thomas Dimitroff did so, he brought some needed experience behind Ryan. While Yates may only have three seasons under his belt, he’s seen action in 13 games and has started five, including a playoff game he won in 2011. Yates has completed 101 passes on 166 attempts in his career and comes to Atlanta AFC Player of the Week honors to his credit from the 2011 season.
Jeff Mathews: Eyes have been on Mathews since being added to the roster as an undrafted free agent following the 2014 NFL Draft. Mathews left Cornell as the school’s most prolific passer and owns a staggering 47 school records and 18 in the Ivy League. A career 62 percent passer, he recorded 72 touchdowns in 38 games for the Big Red. He has a very strong arm and his football smarts are equal to his classroom intelligence, but he may have an uphill climb to crack the 53-man roster after the addition of Yates.