ATLANTA -- Quarterback Matt Ryan has had almost every type of backup during his 14 years in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons. He has had experienced veterans and fresh-faced rookies. He has had guys who have seen much more than him and those who don’t know nearly as much about playing quarterback.
But the goal is simple, and it doesn’t have anything to do with getting ready to play themselves. Part of the role for backup quarterbacks throughout the league is to take some of the preparation workload off the starter ahead of playing on Sundays.
How that happens manifests itself differently depending on who else is in the room. From 2016-20, it was Matt Schaub backing up Ryan, a peer in age who himself was a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback in Houston. Now, after Schaub’s retirement, it’s different.
“Some guys have strengths in terms of being really good at watching film and help you as the season moves on,” Ryan told ESPN this week during a media tour for a Tide Cold Washer Machine he’s helping promote and voicing. “When there’s a ton of film to be able to watch, there are guys who you feel really confident [in] and trust to be able to say, ‘Hey, go back to Week 1 through 4, watch those games and give me any outliers that come up with that.’
“Some guys, that might not be their strength. Some guys, it’s all about the game plan, quizzing me on formations, what do we have out of these formations.”
Ryan is fine with either scenario; he has been around long enough to handle it. It’s more understanding what the backup can handle and what he can’t. Where his assistance can be best utilized.
The biggest thing for Ryan is the expectation. If it’s an older player, like Schaub, it’s making sure they see things similarly. With a younger player, it’s Ryan understanding he might be helping them along, too, even while they are supposed to be helping him. He’s OK with it because doing so helps him learn -- similar to how he quizzes players around the building on different calls and formations to keep them and him sharp.
“Just being really clear at the outset of what the expectation is of his role in our room,” Ryan said. “And how they help and how they can be productive. It’s not the first time in my career I’ve done that.
“I’ve had different times where I’ve had young guys in the room, and I’ll plan accordingly for that.”
This season might see a younger player as Ryan’s backup -- and almost assuredly a less experienced one considering Ryan’s NFL tenure. But throughout the preseason, he was already being the helper. He didn’t take a single snap in a game. After AJ McCarron -- his initial, experienced backup -- tore his right ACL, the Falcons brought in Rosen to join Franks.
The former first-round pick had a crash course in the Falcons' offense for less than a week before he had to play and compete with Franks for a job. Franks, meanwhile, is still learning everything.
Ryan has been there assisting.
“Matt is like, sometimes vets you have to ask them to sort of ask the questions and pick their brain and balance your personal ... not curiosity but want to ask questions and annoyance,” Rosen said. “And you kind of have to walk that fine line. Matt is quizzing us on our calls, like what are you doing here, what are you doing here, asking us everything.”
It’s one of the ways other quarterbacks -- and young players -- unintentionally help Ryan. Ryan will walk around the Falcons' facility as a quizmaster. If he sees you, he might ask you something about a formation or an audible or a playcall.
He’s checking to see if you know it. He’s also checking himself to make sure he’s squared away.
“There’s lots of concepts that are similar so I think having run a lot of different schemes, there’s not a ton of different things that I have not seen before that are here,” Ryan said. “It’s just translating it into your head what we’re calling and being able to just regurgitate it out in the huddle so fast.”
An example: the word "train." Last season, that meant one formation for Ryan. This year, the same word means something totally different. So it’s forgetting one language he spoke and picking up another one.
This happens whenever a new scheme comes in place. It has been a little easier this time because there are concepts familiar to Ryan from previous regimes. So as he gets ready for another season and breaking in a new backup to help him out while picking up a new-enough scheme, he has to make sure the terms are straight by the time the Falcons face Philadelphia on Sept. 12.
“That’s the thing that takes the longest,” Ryan said. “The best thing for me with this transition is there’s a lot of carryover to things that I’ve done before so it cuts down on that learning curve speaking the language quite a bit.”