FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Desmond Ridder stepped outside the Falcons locker room on Thursday to speak with the media, a day later and in a different location than his typical weekly press conference.
It was a subtle sign that something had changed.
Head coach Arthur Smith said Wednesday that Taylor Heinicke would be the starting quarterback in a Week 9 contest against the Minnesota Vikings, without commitment or inference about who would start beyond that.
Despite this week's change in quarterback responsibilities, Ridder is trying to keep the rest of his routine the same. He's still preparing like heck to beat the Vikings. He's still helping run the pass catchers' player-led meeting, where quarterbacks and receivers from all positions discuss a recent practice and find ways to improve. He's still working on his own game to improve deficiencies, including the ball security issues that have impacted him in recent weeks.
"There are things that I can control; that's my effort, my attitude," Ridder said. "I'm still coming in every day working the exact same. Nothing has changed (preparation-wise) for me. Now it's flipping that switch to help Taylor go perform on Sunday and give him the same attention that he gave me."
That last point was clear to Heinicke right away.
"He's handled it very well," Heinicke said Wednesday. "He's speaking up in meetings. He's very engaged. He's helping me out in any way he can. To see that from a young guy is really cool. (That) just speaks to his character and stuff. We're still pushing each other. He's still preparing like he's going to play. God forbid he might. We'll see. But Des has done a great job hearing the news and coming to work."
Ridder said he absorbed the news that Heinicke would start, and since it's his second year, he didn't "press too hard." He obviously wants to play and show he's worthy of another opportunity. He also knows a reserve is always just a snap away from taking the field. For all those reasons, Ridder has to be ready.
Offensive coordinator Dave Ragone said Ridder's response is the sign of a healthy quarterback room, which will be key for everyone in there. The most important thing for a young player like Ridder in a situation like this, Ragone said, is a growth mindset.
"You can look at any situation however you want, but if you look at as a growth opportunity, then usually something good will come from it," Ragone said. "I'm not gonna speak for Des, but my observation of how he's handling things is exactly how I thought. He's a great teammate. He's got to be ready to play just like anybody else who gets a helmet on Sunday. You never know when your situation can change, and every player on our roster on offense prepares to start.
"I think it's an awesome opportunity to try to find your way to grow when you're not going the typical route of getting every rep. And if handled the right way, I think it's an awesome process."
Ridder talked a lot about being better with ball security -- after losing six fumbles and throwing six interceptions -- and working to eliminate negative plays. While there were critical mistakes, Ridder's also trying to view his work this season in totality, understanding that he did some good things, too.
"I put a lot of good stuff on film," Ridder said. "I have been able to move the ball. I've been able to get in the end zone. Now it's about eliminating those negative plays. Like I've said, when the time comes, I'll be ready."
Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the Minnesota Vikings, sponsored by Fast Twitch.