'Really Promising,' Atlanta Falcons QB Says of Michael Penix Jr.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Penix Jr. impressed one of his veteran teammates.
Atlanta Falcons rookie quarterback Michael Penix Jr. impressed veteran signal caller Taylor Heinicke during OTAs.
Atlanta Falcons rookie quarterback Michael Penix Jr. impressed veteran signal caller Taylor Heinicke during OTAs. / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- When the Atlanta Falcons drafted quarterback Michael Penix Jr. at No. 8 overall in April, many viewers were surprised.

And while some players may have brushed off the three-day event to focus on their offseason, Falcons backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke wasn't one of them.

Instead, Heinicke said during organized team activities that his reaction mirrored the majority.

"Obviously, we were all kind of shocked about the pick," Heinicke said. "But being in this league for 10 years, I've kind of seen it all. So, we were shocked for a day or two, but it is what it is."

The same is true for starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was driving home from a team event at Mercedes-Benz Stadium when he received a phone call from Falcons head coach Raheem Morris and general manager Terry Fontenot just moments before the Penix pick was announced.

Shortly thereafter, the four-time Pro Bowler's agent released an official statement detailing much of the same shock Heinicke experienced.

But in the two-plus months that have followed, there are no such worries about the Falcons' quarterback room. Heinicke, the lone returning member from last year's quarterback room still on the roster, said both Penix and Cousins have been great in meetings.

During OTAs, teams have meetings with rookies and veterans together, and then other meetings with just rookies. As a result, Heinicke admitted he hadn't spent considerable time working with Penix.

But not to be lost in the situation is this: Heinicke, who finds his status as the Falcons' backup in question due to Penix's arrival, won't hesitate to lend a hand to the 2023 Heisman runner-up if needed.

"When we're on the field, if I see him struggling or anything, I'm definitely willing to help him in any way I can," Heinicke said.

But during the first month of OTAs and minicamp, Heinicke saw a player who was far from struggling.

"He looks really promising," Heinicke said. "Can throw the crap out of the ball. So, the more he just develops and gets ready, I think he's going to be a good player."

Last season, the Falcons carried three quarterbacks - Heinicke, Desmond Ridder and Logan Woodside - on their active roster. Woodside was inactive on gamedays, but NFL rules allow for the third quarterback to play if the two above him get injured during the game.

It's possible Atlanta, led by a new staff in Morris and offensive coordinator Zac Robinson, opts for a similar approach this fall. The Falcons currently have four signal callers in Cousins, Penix, Heinicke and undrafted rookie John Paddock, who faces an uphill climb to make the final roster.

But questions exist about whether Heinicke or Penix gets the nod as backup to Cousins. Several weeks before the draft, Morris said at the league owners meetings that Heinicke is an elite backup, a belief unaffected by Penix's addition.

Still, there's uncertainty - about Cousins's backup, Heinicke's future and Penix's role. And yet, Heinicke isn't worried about any of it with training camp just over two weeks away.

"I just control what I can control," Heinicke said. "Coming in, trying to be a good teammate, help Kirk or Mike or John any way I can, and see what happens. This is my first rodeo, kind of having this deal. So, I just try to come in, be the best person, best teammate, I can, and I feel everything else will take care of itself."


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Daniel Flick

DANIEL FLICK

Daniel Flick is an accredited NFL writer for Sports Illustrated's FanNation. Daniel has provided boots-on-ground coverage at the NFL Combine and from the Atlanta Falcons' headquarters, among other destinations, and contributed to the annual Lindy's Sports Magazine ahead of the 2023 offseason. Daniel is a co-host on the 404TheFalcon podcast and previously wrote for the Around the Block Network and Georgia Sports Hospitality Media.