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Falcons Training Camp 3 To Watch: Quarterbacks

As the Atlanta Falcons head towards training camp, Falcon Report highlights three players at linebacker to monitor in the preseason.

From start to finish, the Atlanta Falcons have had an eventful offseason at the quarterback position. 

For a moment, now-Cleveland Browns signal caller Deshaun Watson appeared poised to be on his way to Atlanta, but when the Browns came in late with an undeniable offer, it seemed as if the Falcons would have to patch things up with 14-year franchise staple Matt Ryan.

Atlanta put that thought to bed, trading Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts a few short days after Watson was traded to Cleveland. With Ryan no longer in the picture and the NFL Draft not providing many immediate alternatives, Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot signed veteran free agent Marcus Mariota, who has an extensive history with coach Arthur Smith.

With Fontenot refusing to reach in the draft, Atlanta capitalized on all of the quarterbacks but Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett falling, selecting Desmond Ridder, the third-winningest quarterback in college football history, in the third round.

Mariota and Ridder were added to a room holding only 2021 undrafted free agent Feleipe Franks, who's spent much of the offseason program bouncing around between quarterback and tight end.

The Falcons were seemingly set at quarterback as training camp neared but have added a significant plot twist with reports coming out that the team may pursue San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

With lots to sort through, here are three quarterbacks to watch during camp and throughout the preseason.

Marcus Mariota

Mariota, 28, has had quite the rollercoaster of an NFL career. Entering the league as a Heisman Trophy winner and the 2015 draft's No. 2 overall selection, he was a day one starter in the league. 

After trudging through injuries and spurts of inconsistent play with the Tennessee Titans, Mariota was benched in 2019, his fifth season in the league. He's spent the last two seasons as Derek Carr's backup in Las Vegas.

In Atlanta, Mariota gets to reunite with Smith, who was Tennessee's offensive coordinator in the fateful 2019 season. While things didn't work out too well last time for Mariota, he's off to a strong start with the Falcons, as Smith dubbed him (and Ridder) among the team's most impressive players at OTAs.

The biggest question Mariota must answer in camp is whether he's progressed since his time in Tennessee. Prior to his benching, Mariota was never given a chance to sit back and learn in the NFL, other than when he was out due to injury. The Raiders provided him with that opportunity, and he's now been given a rare (among quarterbacks) second chance to prove he's a starting-caliber signal caller.

Mariota hasn't been confirmed as the Falcons' starting quarterback, but he does hold a significant advantage entering the preseason. While Ridder is expected to play at some point, Mariota's goal will be playing so well that Atlanta can't take him off the field. Still under 30, Mariota should enter the campaign with a mindset of taking hold of the job for the foreseeable future, a standard he must play to throughout camp.

Desmond Ridder

In the pre-draft process, ESPN reported that Ridder informed teams he had a plan to beat out a veteran starter in training camp. Now, it's time to put talk into action, with veterans reporting July 26.

Though Ridder, who turns 23 before the start of the season, has yet to put pads on as a professional, he's still impressed Smith in a major way. On Ridder, Smith said that he's, "light years ahead of most young quarterbacks from the neck up."

Since the Falcons drafted Ridder in the third round of April's draft, there's been nothing but praise thrown his way from those inside the organization. Atlanta's fifth-round pick, running back Tyler Allgeier, dubbed Ridder "a genius" due to how quickly he mastered the playbook. Falcons assistant director of college scouting Dwaune Jones said the franchise "fell in love" with Ridder as a person.

When Ridder hits the field for his opening practice at camp, all eyes will be on him, with the Falcons needing nothing more than for him to be the team's long-term solution at quarterback. Atlanta's defense is expected to improve from a season ago, with the secondary and pass rush in particular having intriguing pieces.

Further, apart from tight end Kyle Pitts, receiver Olamide Zaccheaus and running back Cordarrelle Patterson, all of Ridder's targets will be experiencing their first training camp in Atlanta, as well. It's a new team in a new environment with new chemistry, making the challenge all the more difficult for both Ridder and Mariota.

Nevertheless, he'll enter his first season in the NFL with a chance to prove he belongs on the field, and that the rest of the league made a mistake letting him fall, as he expressed on draft night.

Feleipe Franks

One of the bright spots of an otherwise gloomy 2021 preseason, Franks was viewed as an intriguing project for Smith after going undrafted out of Arkansas. He threw just one pass in his rookie season, an interception against the Patriots, but appeared in nine games as a special teamer with occasional snaps at tight end and wildcat quarterback.

With Mariota and Ridder in the fold, Franks' rookie campaign appears to have been a sign of things to come. According to Smith, who's also the offensive play caller, Franks is adapting to a "hybrid" role between quarterback and tight end.

“Feleipe is still working in that (quarterback meeting) room. He's a valuable football player for us. He’ll take some reps at quarterback," Smith said. "Put Feleipe in that hybrid category.”

Offensive coordinator Dave Ragone doubled down on Smith's statement, saying that Franks is "working more at tight end than at quarterback." Ragone also mentioned that it's possible this doesn't remain the same moving forward, making Franks' situation an interesting one to monitor.

The 6-6, 234-pound Franks has a big frame with good athleticism, but now enters year two with more questions than answers. However, with his physical tools, the upside is worth developing. Training camp will reveal lots as to where Atlanta sees Franks' long-term future, be it throwing or catching the football.

If the answer leans more towards the latter, expect the Falcons to add a third quarterback. Whether or not Garoppolo is that guy remains to be seen, but the Falcons almost certainly won't enter the preseason with just two quarterbacks on the roster.

The quarterback position is the most hotly talked about spot in all of football. With the Falcons having what many view as a "bridge" option in Mariota, a non-premium-draft pick in Ridder, and a likely TE convert in Franks, the room promises to provide intrigue, for better or for worse.