Bair Mail: On Arthur Smith and Dean Pees, Desmond Ridder, Jared Bernhardt, Matt Ryan and more

We also discuss Falcons exceeding expectations in this Friday mailbag

You all often ask me to answer more questions in these Bair Mails. I responded on Wednesday by stating that, if you want more questions answered, ask more good questions.

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Maybe I should be careful what I wish for. I got TONS and TONS of great questions. Maybe the most I've ever received between regularly scheduled installments. I'm both overwhelmed by the volume and impressed by how many people chimed in. Bravo. I'll get to as many as I can – and try to address them all in larger mailbags as we push through the slowest part of the NFL calendar.

Let's get to your questions. Oh, and happy Friday:

Dwain Cardwell from John's Creek, Ga.

Hey Bair, I love reading your column. Always rational and sensible answers to sometimes difficult questions. Keep up the good work. My question is how much of a sophomore leap can we expect, in your opinion, of new coaching and front office regime this season?

Bair: Appreciate you writing in, Dwain. Dug the topic so much I decided to lead off with it. I think we'll see improvement from the coaching staff and the players running their schemes for a second time.

Arthur Smith can be emotional in a big moment, but he's a rational, pragmatic dude who will objectively self-scout. He has said he learned a bunch from his rookie year, and his comfort (and maybe confidence) working as head coach has gone up. He has also learned some of what works and what doesn't.

Instead of speaking for him, I'll let the man himself address the issue.

"I was a rookie head coach last year," Smith said. "Just like we do with the players and our staff, I challenged myself to look for ways I could improve. There are things you feel like you can accomplish. Last year, it felt like you would blink and it would be 10 o'clock at night. You have to look at what you want to get done, what's practical and what's not. You feel like you're hitting your stride. It's certainly more comfortable for me entering Year 2 as well."

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has also talked about getting more of his playbook activated with this group, as he continues to teach and install and the team improves the talent-level of his depth chart. I would expect better from him and the defense as well.

This is a good staff that genuinely likes each other, one that largely stayed together. Continuity should help this staff in its second season.

Will Smith from Savannah, Ga.

Hi, Scott. Arthur's "from the neck up" and "light years ahead" comments about Ridder, to me, seemed to say that he might get the starting job sooner than expected. I know you're a Mariota guy, so what are your thoughts? Thanks.

Bair: Glad you brought this up, Will. Let's discuss. First of all, I'm not pulling for either quarterback I doesn't matter to me who starts, but I am of the belief, at this stage, that Marcus Mariota will being the regular season as the starter.

I also wouldn't read too much into Arthur Smith’s comments about Desmond Ridder’s quick grasp of the offense. The head coach says exactly what he means. The compliment was rare – he doesn't do that often for rookies who haven't played an NFL snap – and it was both a nice thing to say and accurate. It doesn't mean he has a leg up on anything. The competition will come this summer, evaluated when pads are on and preseason games are played. Neither quarterback is guaranteed anything. It's a good start for the third round, and that's a plus, but there's still a long way to go.

John Danner from Duluth, Ga.

I'm really intrigued by Jared Bernhardt. Read the bio on the site and some things stood out to me (2021 Tewaaraton Award, lead Ferris State to Division II National Football Championship) - seems like the type of guy the Falcons want on their team. However, he's not played but one year of college football and the WR room is very crowded as you guys have reported before. Is there a possibility that we'll have an interview of him, get to know him a little more and do you think he has a chance to make the team?

Bair: I actually spoke with Jared Bernhardt recently for a feature I'm writing on him this summer. Interesting dude. Great athlete. Someone who is putting heart, sweat and soul into this football venture. The coaches like him. He's shift and quick and is learning how to run routes the right way. I would never say he can or can't do anything right now, after the offseason program. I would say receiver spots will be at a premium. He'll be fighting for a fifth or maybe sixth spot, or he could end up on the practice squad, continuing to develop with an eye on 2023. He's an intriguing talent, to be sure, someone worth following this summer.

The veterans and rookies were out on the field during Minicamps this week putting in some extra work and interacting with fans before the summer break.

Jason Roberts from the ATL

Always love to see everyone's questions and your responses are the Best. I know we aren't looking to next year but do think we will field more pas rushers before season starts and OL as well or will we cash in on both for next year and deal with our lumps but competitive team this year.

Bair: Thanks for the kind words, Jason. I enjoy the back and forth even (maybe especially) with those who disagree. I think this about your question: The Falcons are trying to win as many games as possible. They're going to sign some lineman during the break and thin the skill spots, as they just did after minicamp tryouts.

Will they be truly competitive, with this roster? Time will tell. They'll try to be, and continue churning the bottom of the roster especially, looking for Anthony Rush-style diamonds in the rough.

I do think the offensive line has to improve. There are three open spots along the line, and this will be a huge camp for combatants at right tackle, left guard and center. That's a good thing. The Falcons need to build this line up, finding out who belongs, where to cut bait and where to invest in talent. That will be key for the Falcons this year and next.

Scotty B from Dubai/Atlanta

Is this team under-rated or am I just being a wishful fan? Having lived with the Falcons *relatively* consistent mediocrity since the 80s, at some point you start to lose faith, and the comparisons to the Cleveland Browns start to sting. That said, some of the players we added this off-season, draft and otherwise, seem like they could add a real spark. So I guess I'm asking, even if they do "add a real spark", are we talking about a spark just for funzies and we lose 12+ games? Or do we have a chance of being at least a spoiler, if not a realistic chance at being a decent team (8+ wins?)?

Bair: Agree, my man. Great name. In regarded to underrated/overrated, that's always a tough one. If we're looking at the line for games won in 2022, that sits at 4.5. The Falcons aren't given much respect there. I believe they'll win more than that. Last year's number was 4, and they actually won 7.

I think this team's chemistry will help, as well some of the new talent either drafted or signed. But, as they were a year ago, they're super thin at some spots. They need to stay healthy to stay competitive.

Jim R from Roanoke, Va.

Been a Falcon fan since early 70's. Is it wrong for me to root for Ryan and the Falcons also? Some people think it's not fan loyalty.

Bair: It's often said fans root for the jersey, not the name on the back. It's certainly possible to do both, especially with someone like Matt Ryan, who has given so much to this franchise and this city. I think we can just say you want him to win every game, as long as he's not playing the Falcons. Ha.

Call for questions

So I got to six questions and nearly 1,400 words. There were a lot I didn't get to, but … Brayton Rahimi, Sharone Ralston and Ricky Farley, I see you. I'll get to your questions on Monday. There are others who didn't show up here because a question above was similar to yours. Had to pick one. But, again, it was so cool to see the mailbag overflowing. Submit some more right here. Let's keep it going and talk Falcons throughout the offseason.

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