The Falcons are entering uncharted territory with stalwart QB Matt Ryan playing in a different uniform for the first time in his entire career. For many Falcons fans, Ryan has been the only signal caller they’ve ever known. Now, a new starter emerges at training camp — Marcus Mariota.
Falcons QB coach Charles London told members of the media after the very first day of training camp that Mariota was the starter, but it’s been more than just that. The reports coming out of camp suggest he’s taking control over the team — story courtesy of Michael Rothstein of ESPN.
It was late in Saturday’s practice, and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota appeared to have nowhere to throw. The coverage was good, but this was a red zone play, so he took off for the end zone.
And when he scored, Mariota celebrated by launching the football more than halfway up the hill where fans sit and watch practice. It was at once a moment of exhilaration in the midst of one of the most competitive practices of coach Arthur Smith’s tenure and perhaps a release for the quarterback himself.
“It’s probably a little bit more emotion than I’ve seen from him in a while,” Smith said. “Probably a little bit of it is a little cathartic.”
It’s no secret why Mariota was signed — experience in Arthur Smith’s offense. He was drafted No. 2 overall after winning the Heisman Trophy and has had a rollercoaster of a career. The former Oregon Duck entered the league in 2015 and took the Titans to the divisional round of the playoffs in his third season. However, fast forward three years and Mariota appeared in only one game for the Raiders during the 2020 season. Last year, he was strictly used as a change-of-pace QB and only stepped on the field to throw off opposing defenses.
Mariota’s ability to create plays off-script with his legs is going to be a big factor in the Falcons’ offense this year. He is 29-32 over 61 career starts with an 89.5 passer rating, and his most recent start came in 2020, where he completed 17 of 28 passes (60.7% completion) for 226 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Falcons fans shouldn’t expect him to come in and be something that he’s not, but Mariota can still function as a starter in this league.
Mariota is lightyears ahead of Desmond Ridder in terms of what he’s seen from NFL defenses as well. However, reports from Flowery Branch suggest Ridder isn’t like most rookie QBs. He’s not struggling with the jargon and schematics of an NFL offense. Teammates are also gravitating toward him as a leader — the two most important things for a young signal caller in this league. But despite the Cincinnati product being ahead of schedule compared to most rookie QBs, it seems the Falcons already have their starter.
Photographer: Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire