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Falcons 'Encouraged' But Non-Committal to Desmond Ridder as 2023 Starting QB

Atlanta Falcons coach Arthur Smith spoke on the long-term and immediate future of rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder as it pertains to being the team's starting signal caller.

Atlanta Falcons coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot stood in front of the media Wednesday for their annual end-of-year press conference, recapping a second consecutive 7-10 season in which the team will pick No. 8 overall in April's draft.

The first question: will rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder, who flashed during his four-game audition at season's end, be the Falcons' starter under center moving forward?

Smith's answer? Undecided ... but he failed to officially appoint Ridder as the quarterback of the future, though he remains upbeat about what he saw.

"We're still early in the offseason, but we're certainly encouraged by his progress he made," Smith said. "There's a lot of work ahead of us before we're ready to declare anything like that right now."

While Atlanta is officially in the offseason, Smith and Fontenot's schedule remains busier than ever. Meetings with both the college and pro scouting staffs have taken place over the last several weeks, and the coming days are designated for self-assessment within the organization.

Smith and his coaching staff won't get long for this process either, as they'll be back on the field Jan. 28 in Las Vegas, Nevada for the East-West Shrine Game, searching for foundational pieces to help get the Falcons over the proverbial hump.

It remains possible that Ridder can do much the same. The 23-year-old went 73 of 115 (63.5 percent) for 708 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions across four games, all starts. He impressed Smith with his pocket presence, poise and command - but the door remains open for somebody else to get the nod next season.

That decision has yet to be made ... and Smith isn't in much of a hurry.

"We're very encouraged, but there's a lot of things that can change and I think it's healthy to take a step back," Smith said. "Not even just a couple of days after, a couple weeks, as you go back and you go through cut ups, watch the games again, you watch the throws. The conversations that Terry and I will have, it just doesn't make sense right now two days removed from the season to make any declarations about the roster or this guy's future, we'll take our time.

"We obviously have had had conversations, but there's a lot of work to be done until then."

Depending on the mindset one has, Smith's words can be viewed as promising for Ridder's hopes, noting that he's "very encouraged" and the team is merely doing due diligence, or an indication that Atlanta's second-year coach wasn't blown away enough to absolutely endorse the former Cincinnati Bearcat.

The reality is that the answer is likely somewhere in the middle, leaving Smith and Fontenot with a crucial - and difficult - decision to make in the next few months.

But one thing remains certain: Atlanta's actions in the free agency and draft process will speak much, much louder than words.

You can follow Daniel Flick on Twitter @DFlickDraft

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