Falcons OTA observations: Desmond Ridder’s accuracy already a hot topic?

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Desmond Ridder wasn’t off the field Wednesday afternoon before Twitter was buzzing about the Atlanta quarterback’s accuracy.

It wasn’t happy chatter, either, so let’s just dive right into it with two points of context.

First, it’s May. Wednesday was the second session of the Falcons’ third phase of the voluntary offseason program. It’s not even an official “practice” and actual football is still almost four months away.

Second, it’s still OK to be worried about Ridder’s accuracy. The only significant knock on the second-year quarterback coming out of Cincinnati was that very subject, and now that he’s been handed the reins of the Atlanta offense, it’s fair to wonder if it has gotten better. Wednesday wasn’t terrible. But it wasn’t great either.

Ridder was high on several throws during individual drills and missed rookie running back Bijan Robinson on a short pass during seven-0n-seven work.

“He’s still young. He’s going to go through growing pains,” first-year Falcons defensive end Calais Campbell said. “You can see it in practice. He has good moments and moments where he is young and has to work on some stuff. That’s football; that’s all of us. For a second-year player, you can see the potential.”

Campbell, who signed with the Falcons as a free agent this offseason, said he was attracted to them in part because he believes in Ridder. In fact, he watched game tape of Ridder with head coach Arthur Smith, offensive coordinator Dave Ragone and general manager Terry Fontenot during his free-agency visit.

“I was asking Coach about it, and (Smith) said, ‘Let’s put the tape on, I’ll show you what I think,’” Campbell told FOX5, the team’s official TV partner. “We were all in there talking through what makes him special. It was an important piece for making the decision and they were like, ‘If it’s going to be a deciding factor, let’s go through it, let’s talk through all of it.’ I appreciated their directness.”


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Ridder was 26th last season in completion percentage (63.5 percent) among quarterbacks with more than 100 pass attempts, according to TruMedia. He was focusing Wednesday on trying to better position his entire body through the throwing motion, he said.

“Today it was just stay balanced in my shoulders, not have too much weight on my back foot, and just stay balanced on my feet and base,” he said. “Tomorrow could be something new. It’s just about getting better every single day, continuing to battle.”

Ridder’s teammates have expressed nothing but support for the quarterback and several mentioned Wednesday how much leadership he has assumed this offseason, but the Falcons offense simply won’t function anywhere near its full potential without an accurate quarterback. That much was painfully clear last season when Ridder and Marcus Mariota were second- and third-worst in off-target percentage (18.3 percent for Ridder and 17.7 percent for Mariota) among quarterbacks with more than 100 pass attempts, according to TruMedia.

Taking roll

The Falcons had more than 80 players from the 90-man roster suited up for Wednesday’s workout. Among the notable players not practicing were tight end Kyle Pitts, running backs Cordarrelle Patterson and Caleb Huntley, defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham and safety Jessie Bates III.

Pitts, Huntley and Graham have been rehabbing major injuries this offseason. Bates, who signed as a free agent in March, missed Wednesday because of the impending birth of his child, Smith said.

“That’s more important than anything we’re doing right now,” Smith said. “Jessie has been here every day. He’s been awesome. Happy to have Jessie.”

Smith said he doesn’t put any pressure on his players to attend the workouts, which are voluntary under the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

“There’s life outside this building,” he said. “I’d never sit there and guilt-trip anybody. You’re going to make the team by how you perform in August.”

The new guy

Wednesday was the first day Ryan Nielsen was able to be on the field coaching his defense through practice situations against the offense, and the Falcons’ first-year defensive coordinator was all over the place. After spending the last six seasons as the defensive line coach in New Orleans, Nielsen worked at least briefly with every position group during seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 work Wednesday.

“The guy obviously loves ball,” Campbell said. “He’s very particular about technique and how to be successful because he studies it. That’s going to allow us to really improve. He has a lot of weapons at his disposal, and I think our defense will be really good this year.  I like the structure of the practice and the way we do things. I feel like the game plans are going to be really good.”

During one drill with the defensive linemen, Nielsen used himself in place of a tackling dummy to simulate the linemen trying to strip the ball from the quarterback during a sack.

“He obviously has a great football mind,” linebacker Troy Andersen said. “I’m trying to pick up and learn from him as much as he can. Very detailed and dialed in in what he’s asking us to do, has answers to the questions we ask of him.”


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Koo didn’t cash in

Kicker Younghoe Koo said he gave his No. 7 jersey to Robinson free of charge. Robinson FaceTimed Koo to make the request, which Koo said he was happy to agree to on the condition that Robinson makes a future donation to a charity of his choosing. Koo will wear No. 6 this season.

“I just asked Coach what other numbers were available,” he said.


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Paying it forward

Smith is hopeful Pitts and wide receiver Drake London, Atlanta’s first-round picks the last two seasons, can help Robinson deal with the pressures that come with being a highly touted offensive prospect, but London isn’t convinced Robinson needs much coaching.

“From what I’ve seen so far from Bijan, I mean, he’s a level-headed kid, very, very humble,” London said. “He works hard. He doesn’t say much. So already right now he’s on a great path.”

Second-year receiver Drake London says he likes what he’s seen of rookie running back Bijan Robinson so far. (Cooper Neill / Getty Images)

After being on that same head-down, mouth-shut path last year, London said coming into his second NFL season felt like “the biggest breath of fresh air you could ever think of.” London led the team with 72 catches for 866 yards last season.

“It’s been really good just to sit back and digest everything,” he said. “I understand what’s going on. Way more comfortable and, just honestly, understanding what I have to do to get better from now on.”

Double vision

Andersen, the Falcons’ 6-foot-4, 239-pound middle linebacker, and new weakside linebacker Kaden Elliss (6-2, 238) looked like twins lined up next to each other in Wednesday’s team drills.

“Kaden is awesome to work with,” Andersen said. “Super knowledgeable, has been in this system, great person to have in the room to bounce things off of, and he’s just a tremendous human being.”

Andersen, a Montana State alumnus, and Elliss, an Idaho alumnus, played in the Big Sky Conference in college.

“To be able to hang out with him and learn from him and get to know him has been fun,” Andersen said.

The players’ similar skill sets suggest they could play almost interchangeable roles in the defense.

“We’re just in the beginning of it, but we want to be versatile,” Andersen said. “Everybody can play everything, but we’re just trying to learn right now.”

Happy to share the load

Tyler Allgeier set the Falcons’ rookie rushing record last season with 1,035 yards but said he didn’t bat an eye when Atlanta used its first-round pick on another running back. In fact, he was “excited” about adding Robinson to the backfield, he said.

“The guys upstairs do things for a reason and are bringing the right guys in here,” he said. “It’s just competition. That’s the name of this game. Should be fun.”

Allgeier said he’s hopeful he can learn from Robinson to expand his game.

“Really, I’m learning from him because of him being an all-around back, that’s my goal,” Allgeier said. “Protecting the quarterback, running the ball and then just being a (passing) threat in the backfield, obviously I’m still striving to be that.”

Extra points

Even among NFL players, Campbell and cornerback Tre Flowers stand out as large in their position groups. Campbell, the 6-8, 307-pound defensive end, stands out as large anywhere. “One of the biggest humans I’ve ever seen,” Andersen said. Flowers, who has been with the Bengals and Seahawks, is 6-3, 200 pounds. … Second-year outside linebacker DeAngelo Malone didn’t get much time with the first and second groups in team drills Wednesday. … Huntley, who tore his Achilles in Week 15 last season, was walking without a boot and caught passes off the Jugs machine after practice Wednesday.

(Top photo: Brett Davis / USA Today)