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'Be Marcus Mariota': What Falcons Need from New Starting QB

"I’m kind of hungry to get back on the field again.” - Mariota.

Let's be honest: It would be nice of Marcus Mariota really was more "like Matt Ryan or Peyton Manning,'' two names Atlanta Falcons coach Arthur Smith happened to name-drop when discussing what Mariota represents in Atlanta.

But "honest'' is part of Mariota's makeup, and that's going to have to be good enough.

"He’s his own guy,'' Smith said this week. "That’s what you like about certain players ... He’s authentic. He is who he is. He doesn’t try to be anybody. We’re not asking him to come in here and be Matt Ryan or to be Peyton Manning. 

"Be Marcus Mariota. That’s what we want."

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Marcus Mariota
Desmond Ridder

The former No. 2 pick in his NFL Draft has for the last two years been a Las Vegas Raiders backup. Before that, he played under Smith in Tennessee; Smith was the offensive coordinator during a period when Mariota lost the starting job to Ryan Tannehill in 2019.

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His job now? Replace - but not necessarily emulate - Ryan. And at the same time, serve as a bridge as he mentors rookie QB Desmond Ridder.

For me personally the last couple of years was a learning opportunity,” Mariota said this week. “Previously when I was at Tennessee I had an opportunity to play. I was a starter. Being around that and then going and learning for a couple of years, I’m kind of hungry to get back on the field again.”

Ryan, the 2016 NFL MVP, is now playing for the Indianapolis Colts, having been traded in the wake of Atlanta's failed pursuit of Deshaun Watson, who picked the Browns over his hometown team.

Mariota, still just a 28-year-old with things to prove, gets that chance here.

"It’s been fun being around him again, not just as a player but as a person," Smith said. "He’s one of those people you enjoy being around, and he’s doing a good job right now with what we’re asking him to."