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Terry Fontenot talks Desmond Ridder, Bijan Robinson and what defines success in 2023

Falcons general manager held a press conference before Wednesday's training camp practice

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — In an unexpected turn of events, the Atlanta Falcons' second-year quarterback, Desmond Ridder, is the most tenured starter at the position with his current team in the NFC South.

All of the Falcons' division rivals are going to start a newcomer.


The Carolina Panthers used this year's No. 1 overall draft pick to select Bryce Young from Alabama, and they already announced the rookie will be their starter in Week 1 against the Falcons. The New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, meanwhile, both added veteran free agents in Derek Carr and Baker Mayfield, respectively, during the offseason.

"If you're looking at the steps right in front of you, you can keep going," Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said before Wednesday's practice. "If you look too far, you'll fall. We don't like at it like, 'Hey, let's take over this division because of where it is.' We're focusing on the moment, focusing on what's right in front of us."

That would be Ridder, though. And an advantage with him very may well be already having experience in Atlanta's offense.

The Falcons drafted Ridder with a third-round pick in 2022 from Cincinnati, but he didn't see a single snap through the first 13 games of his rookie season. Veteran Marcus Mariota was the Falcons' guy for that span and until he was benched before the final four games. That's when Ridder finally got to show what he can do.

"One thing we saw early on with Desmond is the professional he was and the maturity at an early stage in his career last year," Fontenot said. "That's why we decided to play him the last four games, and he showed growth and improvement in every game. We saw him in critical moments: third down, fourth down, end of game, end of half. And he was able to produce in those moments.

"Also, Desmond, we saw him get knocked down. We saw him handle some adversity and we saw him respond to it. We believe in the makeup, the maturity."

During that limited time, Ridder connected 73 of his 115 pass attempts – good for a 63.4% success rate. He threw for 708 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Atlanta went 2-2 to close out the schedule.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank hinted at a long-term future with Ridder on Tuesday, and then Fontenot clearly further emphasized the team's confidence in its QB1.

If Ridder ultimately doesn't deliver, the Falcons have Logan Woodside and Taylor Heinicke on their 90-man roster at the moment. They, of course, have also been receiving reps during training camp.

"Look, Desmond is no different than myself and any player on this roster," Fontenot said. "He knows that he has to come in every day and earn it. But he has that mindset to work and do it that way. So, we're very excited about Desmond."

More notes, quotes from Terry Fontenot's press conference:

What would qualify as a successful season: There was a lot of talk this week about how 2023 marks the third year in Falcons owner Arthur Blank's three-year plan for Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith. The GM and head coach were both hired in 2021 and the team has not produced a winning record since then, going 7-10 in each season. Confidence hasn't wavered, but the clock is ticking nonetheless.

"Continued improvement," Fontenot said. "We wouldn't put a specific number on it. We wouldn't put a floor or a ceiling on what we can be. We do believe in this team. We believe in our process. So, just like it always is, we want to continue to improve and get better."

How difficult deciding on a 53-man roster will be: The Falcons' front office is happy with where the 90-man roster stands right now, two weeks into training camp. But that doesn't mean it's settled, even in the meantime. Fontenot said the evaluation process never ends.

The NFL's deadline for each team's 53-man roster is Aug. 29, less than a month away.

"We love how camp has gone because it's so competitive," Fontenot said. "It is really competitive. We got the right types of guys. No one is backing down. It's every day in every phase. Offense, defense. Every position room. There's a lot of back and forth. It's extremely competitive. That's what we're excited about. Because it's going to be a hard 53 to make."

What makes running back Bijan Robinson so special: Atlanta used the eighth overall pick in this year's NFL Draft to select running back Bijan Robinson from Texas. Old news. What's new is seeing him in action during training camp.

So far, so good. The Falcons are not disappointed in their investment. Even off the field.

"He's a true professional already, just the way he handles himself," Fontenot said. "We put a lot on these rookies' plates -- a lot on all these players' plates. But the rookies, it's a transition. … Bijan is doing a lot of different things for us. It's taxing, but he's handled everything so well and he is just even and consistent. He always has that $1 million smile on his face. We appreciate Bijan, and maturity is a good word to describe him.

Speaking of running backs, here's what Fontenot had to say about the current controversy surrounding the position's pay: "We talk a lot about positionless football. We really can't speak for other's people's buildings and what they're going because you just don't have all the information. You don't know exactly why they're making the decision in other buildings. But here, we don't look at what position they play, we look who they are. Not what. Who."

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch during the 2023 AT&T Training Camp.

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