Falcons should hope backup not in play

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
1:23
AM ET
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will address the media Thursday, the last day of the team's three-day minicamp.

He'll talk about what the offense accomplished through the week. He'll praise the play of the players around him and probably single out impressive undrafted rookie receiver Bernard Reedy.

And Ryan certainly will have positive things to say about his new teammate, quarterback T.J. Yates, even if he's not too familiar with him. Yates was acquired in a trade with the Houston Texans on Wednesday in exchange for linebacker Akeem Dent.

Ryan
Ryan
Yates
Here's what Ryan should say: "With the revamped offensive line in front of me, I'm confident I'll play in all 16 games and the playoffs because we plan to be back in the postseason picture."

Yes, Yates makes for a cute storyline. He's the local player from Marietta, Georgia, who is coming home to add some stability behind Ryan. He earned a little name recognition as a rookie after helping Houston to a 31-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2011 playoffs -- the Texans' first-ever postseason win.

But if the Falcons have to turn to Yates, Dominique Davis, Sean Renfree, rookie Jeff Mathews or whomever the backup quarterback might be, they'll probably be in trouble.

The Falcons obviously weren't content with the backup situation. It was evident immediately after last season concluded. There were whispers about the need for a veteran quarterback. There was even talk about Luke McCown returning to the Falcons if he didn't re-sign with the Saints, but he stayed in New Orleans.

Head coach Mike Smith made those quarterback-depth concerns clearer this week when he declared the backup job "wide open" after Renfree got some second-team snaps. Davis had the role last season and got injured in the one game he played at Tampa Bay, when the Buccaneers routed the Falcons and the coaches pulled Ryan to keep him from getting killed.

The Falcons also knew they couldn't go through another season watching Ryan getting banged around like a pinball. That's why they spent money in free agency and brought in starting right guard Jon Asamoah. That's why they drafted Jake Matthews out of Texas A&M to start at right tackle.

Those investments, plus the hiring of offensive line coach Mike Tice to bring toughness up front, were all about keeping Ryan upright and healthy during the 2014 season.

Sure, it's great to have solid insurance. Maybe Yates will provide it, although he still has to come in and prove himself after losing out to Ryan Fitzpatrick in Houston. Whatever happens, acquiring an experienced quarterback with a playoff win under his belt in exchange for a linebacker who no longer seemed to be a key member of the defense was a worthwhile tradeoff.

It should be an interesting competition for the backup role, and Davis should come out firing Thursday, if he still has a chance to remain the backup.

But again, the focus for the Falcons should be all about Ryan. Experts such as former NFL executive and ESPN analyst Bill Polian believe Ryan is a Super Bowl away from joining the elite. The Falcons were one step away from the Super Bowl two years ago. If Ryan is healthy and protected and has his full arsenal of receivers, including Julio Jones, then the Falcons have a chance to extinguish last year's dismal 4-12 showing.

They shouldn't be counting on their backup plan.

Vaughn McClure

ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter

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