FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- If you took nothing from Desmond Ridder's first media availability as the Falcons starting quarterback go back and take this: The Falcons never spoon-fed him. Never - not once - did they treat him like a rookie quarterback who would never see the playing field in his first year. Never - not once - did they hold his hand.
They gave him everything: Every play, every call, every progression, every check, in Arthur Smith's offensive play book. He got it all. The Falcons coaching staff pushed him, even as he led the practice squad offense throughout the first 13 weeks of the season as Marcus Mariota held down the starting role at quarterback.
The Falcons were always - all the time - pushing Ridder.
"From the day that he got here Coach (Arthur) Smith pushed him. Coach (Dave) Ragone pushed him. I've pushed him," quarterbacks coach Charles London said. "All to not be like a rookie. To prepare him for this moment."
And there you have your answer as to why they did so: Because the Falcons knew that this day would come.
One day soon, Ridder would start for the Falcons. For the organization to know how to move forward at the quarterback position, they needed to see what Ridder could and could not handle. That process started the moment he became a Falcon.
"I'm prepared for this," Ridder said on Wednesday. "This is what they've been preparing me for. They didn't want to baby me."
What does that realistically look like, though, when Ridder is not taking active snaps in a real, regular season game?
It all goes back to the mental reps.
"It means going about the game plan how a 12-year vet, an eight-year vet, whatever it may be, would," Ridder said. "Not putting on a wristband, (but) making me memorize every single play call, all the ins and outs, all the checks, all the cadence, just taking it like I've been in the league for eight years (even though) I've been in the league for six months."
When asked if he was ready for this moment four or five weeks ago, Ridder was candid in saying he doesn't know if he was "fully ready" to be the starting quarterback at that point.
In Week 15, he feels different.
"I think I am fully prepared, fully ready now," he said. "I'm ready to go, ready to execute."
Smith and London agreed. Both said that if Ridder wasn't ready, if they weren't confident in his performance and progress behind-the-scenes, they wouldn't put him out on the field against the Saints in New Orleans.
They feel this way because both saw an "accelerated growth" from Ridder in the last month of the season, according to Smith. That growth was most evident in what Ridder could handle from a mental standpoint.
"You do see the command of (the offense)," London said of Ridder. "I'll give him a play after practice and he's spitting it out before I can even finish it, and that's what you like to see. You like to see that growth. You know he's mastered the plan and you know how he feels about the plan, and you have to be able to walk into the huddle with confidence."
And Ridder does. So much so that the Falcons do not feel like they have to shrink the playbook when he's under center.
Of course, some calls may shift or change, but that's based on Ridder's strengths, not in his inability to handle a certain play. London said that's a plus for this offense.
"I don't think there's anything that we need to scale back," the quarterbacks coach said. "We don't feel that way."
So, what does this week look like for Ridder now that he's the starter?
Well, London and Ridder were adamant that it doesn't change much. The only change, Ridder said, was the added cameras all pointed to him as he faced the media for the first time as the Falcons starting quarterback.
London said that it was important for the Falcons to keep this week as normal as possible for Ridder. Sure, he has some extra media obligations on his plate, but everything else? It's pretty much the same.
Ridder has stuck to his routine, London said, noting that he saw the rookie quarterback at the facility on Wednesday at 6 a.m., the exact same time as always.
And Ridder said that he can stick to this same routine because for the last 16 weeks, he's been preparing like he was the starter. Now he is. So, why change anything?
"This is my dream job. This is what I wanted to do," Ridder said. "The only difference between last week and this week is the 13 cameras."
"Coming in this week, I haven't changed anything."
There is something, though, that this Falcons team wants to change as they come out of the bye week. They need to get back on a winning track. That, Ridder said, not him being given the reins of the offense, should be the spark that lights this locker room.
Ridder said he's not a "stats guy," never really was even as a four-year starter at Cincinnati.
What he was, though, was a guy who won... a lot.
The Falcons could use a win right about now, particularly against their divisional rival in New Orleans on Sunday.
What Atlanta doesn't need is for Ridder to try to play hero on Sunday. They need him to do what he's been known to do, which is simply finding a way to win.
"I think mentally, he's there. I think physically, he's there," London concluded. "I don't think the moment will be too big for him."
The guys put in the work in Flowery Branch to prepare for this week's game against the New Orleans Saints, presented by Gatorade.
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