When the Falcons returned to practice this week at Flowery Branch, quarterback Sean Renfree received a clear indication that his performance against the Titans resonated with Atlanta brass.
Renfree, a third-year pro out of Duke, took roughly half of the second-team snaps during Monday morning drills—a job handled mostly by T.J Yates throughout XFINITY® Training Camp. The pair split reps this time around, a sign the competition for the No. 2 spot behind Matt Ryan is heating up.
“What an awesome end for Sean,” Quinn said after defeating the Titans, 31-24. “For me to have those guys get in those scenarios, where Matt gets in so many of those feature plays, we have been working hard on those situations. For them to go in there and function like they are capable of, I was glad to see that battle. Sean especially at the end on the finish, he really had great command down there.”
Renfree checked in versus Tennessee with the score tied at 24, and with the help of a strong ground attack, authored a 16-play, 86-yard touchdown drive that proved to be the game-winner. Shortly thereafter, once the defense made a crucial stop, Renfree displayed some impressive management skills by leading a seven-play, 3:30-long possession, which pinned the Titans on their own 14 yard line with only 15 seconds left in regulation.
It was exactly what you’d hope to see out of a potential backup: the ability to stay cool under difficult conditions, avoid big mistakes and give your team a legitimate crack at success.
In total, he completed 6-7 passes for 68 yards. According to Quinn, Renfree’s new opportunities at practice came as a result of his notable—albeit limited—work in Friday’s high-leverage setting.
“There were some really good moments for Renfree out there,” the head coach said Monday afternoon. “I think I saw the boot, where he stood in there and took a shot and delivered a nice ball to the flat. I think he did a really good job managing the four minutes.
“We’ll see as we go, but (Renfree) did earn a little bit more. I don’t know if he earned it over (Yates), but we wanted to give him some turns today too.”
One of the most impressive parts of Renfree’s game was the way he handled himself while under fire. The former Blue Devil went 2-3 when pressured, 3-3 when blitzed and, according to Pro Football Focus, didn’t sustain a hit or need to throw any passes away.
Of course, going up against second- and third-string opponents, he didn’t face any premier defenders. And with just seven attempts registered, he wasn’t out there enough to form a thorough evaluation. But Renfree’s ability to distribute the ball—and look comfortable doing so—is encouraging nonetheless.
“I think Sean has no fear in his game,” said quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur. “That’s a prerequisite of that position. He did a great job of handling the heat in that game. So that was real encouraging.
“More than anything else, we’re just looking for him to take command of the position like he showed and did a great job at the end of the game. Just getting our guys up late in the game when we’re trying to milk the clock, and he’s doing a great job managing the situation and taking full control of the huddle.”
Yates and Renfree’s bout went down to the wire last year, with Yates earning a permanent job on the 53-man roster by throwing for 243 yards and two TDs in Week 4 of the preseason. The contest is once again extremely close, and like 2014, it might take the entire exhibition schedule to determine their roles moving forward.
“(It’s a) total competition open for those guys as we’re going through it,” Quinn said. “It’s right there, the central theme of what we’re doing is competing. It’s against each other, going against one another so they’re right there in the middle of it.”