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'We've Got Leaders': Falcons QB Coach Sees High Mentality In Mariota And Ridder

Charles London has been impressed with the leadership and maturity in Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder

As OTAs began on Tuesday, there was change on the practice field inside the Atlanta Falcons' complex. For the first time since 2008, Matt Ryan wasn't the one lining up under center commanding the offensive huddle. His booming "get set!" wasn't echoing throughout the facility. 

Marcus Mariota

“It’s different,” Falcons quarterbacks coach Charles London said Thursday. “You had a guy who was here 14 years, so obviously it’s going to be different, but this is the NFL. Change happens every year. It’s a new team every year.”

It's only London's second season as a quarterback's coach in his 18-year career, but he'll have the opportunity to hopefully groom the long-time passer in Falcons' history. For now, the expectation is for veteran Marcus Mariota to start Week 1 and stabilize Arthur Smith's offense.

Long-term? The goal would be to see third-rounder Desmond Ridder become the next Russell Wilson in the ATL. London isn't looking to compare and contrast the two passer's style of play. He also understands it's still early in practice, meaning deciphering the pros and cons mean little up to this point.

“We have Marcus out there who leads in his own kind of way. Desmond is getting to that point where he leads in his own kind of way. It’s a different type of leadership, but it’s good,” London said. “Different is not always bad." 

Mariota has made an impression among his Atlanta teammates early on in practice. New Falcons receiver Bryan Edwards said he already has seen both the leadership and work ethic the 2014 Heisman winner possess in the huddle after spending the past two seasons with him in Las Vegas. 

Ridder, the No. 74 pick in April's draft, comes enthralled with the leadership traits needed for the pros. He's third all-time in FBS wins with a 44-6 record and continued to develop throughout into one of college football's most consistent passers during his time at Cincinnati. 

Don't let the small-school mentality fool you, either. Ridder led the Bearcats to a 22-2 record with a pair of conference titles in two seasons. He also convinced the College Football Playoff committee that Cincinnati was one of the four best teams in the country, helping make history as the first Group of Five school to make the CFP. 

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"He's got great leadership," London said of Ridder. "He came in here during rookie camp, and it's hard, he's got players who are undrafted free agents and street free agents who have never been together before. I thought he did a really good job of rallying the group and getting everybody going in the right direction."

One thing Smith has told both Ridder and Mariota is that he isn't wanting either to be the next Ryan. Even with all the accolades and highlights found in the 'House that Matt built,' it's a new era of Falcons' football. Smith wants a different style of quarterback at the helm. 

"Quarterbacks have to be themselves," Smith said. "They get in trouble when they go in there and some guru has told them, ‘Act like this,’ and it’s not authentic. It’s like if I came in here and tried to act like some other coach. If I just hijacked Pat Riley’s look, I wouldn’t look very authentic." 

Desmond Ridder
Desmond Ridder

London said he can see the similarities between Ridder and Mariota, pointing out how both are "athletic guys, can throw well on the run."  Something he's noticed about to two is their vocal presence in the film room. On more than one occasion, London said he's received a late night text asking about a certain play from practice. 

Mariota has familiarity with the playbook from his time in Tennessee with Smith. Things have changed since 2019. Ridder is still learning along the way, but London isn't looking to treat him like a rookie. Defenses won't care how long a player has been in the pros come Sundays. 

"They have to rescue themselves and get the guys in the right spot. They've gotta know what to do, said London. 'They've gotta point (the offense) in the right direction. It's part of the job of being a quarterback to try to point them in that direction."

The Falcons return to the second phase of OTAs on Wednesday, June 1.