Josh Rosen finds peace, perspective in Atlanta and a mentor in Rich Gannon

Josh Rosen has found a comfort level with the Falcons that thus far has eluded him in his tumultuous NFL career. @AtlantaFalcons/Twitter

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- He walked over to the small table set up just to the side of the Atlanta Falcons practice field on a recent Friday and stuck out his hand as a greeting.

In a time where too often players are shuttled to and from media sessions like part of an assembly line with a supervisor listening to their every word, this was a small detail. A difference. A nuance for a quarterback who has been through so much in such a short time, himself shuffled around the NFL over and over again.

A player, in some ways, who needs a reintroduction.

"Hi, I'm Josh Rosen. Nice to meet you."

Rosen has been peripatetic since being drafted with the No. 10 overall pick by the Arizona Cardinals out of UCLA in 2018. A smile on his face -- somewhat of a surprise considering his journey -- Rosen found something he had been seeking for a while. Something he didn't necessarily know he needed.

"I'm more at peace with who I am and how I think about myself probably than I have ever been in my career," Rosen said. "So I wake up in the morning with maybe a little bit more pep in my step than I've had the past couple years.

"It's all really exciting and it's all right in front of me to just keep pushing on."

Peace was an almost unattainable goal in the violent, ruthless world Rosen resides in. There was the tumultuous situation in Arizona, where he was drafted and then saw the head coach who chose him, Steve Wilks, fired after one season. Kliff Kingsbury replaced Wilks, drafted Kyler Murray, and Arizona shipped Rosen to Miami.

The Dolphins were in the midst of a rebuild in 2019 and Rosen briefly held the starting job before Ryan Fitzpatrick became the preferred option. Miami selected Tua Tagovailoa in the 2020 draft, cutting Rosen.

Rosen then spent most of 2020 on Tampa Bay's practice squad before signing with San Francisco after it suffered injuries at quarterback. Rosen never played there and then the 49ers drafted Trey Lance in April. On Aug. 17, Rosen was released.

Four days later, during a preseason game in Miami, Atlanta backup AJ McCarron suffered a season-ending knee injury. Rosen was brought in for a workout two days later and signed the following day. He had to make the team first -- which he did after a good performance in the team's final preseason game against Cleveland -- and became Atlanta's backup behind Matt Ryan.

Many people seem to forget Rosen is just 24 years old because of how many places he has been and the lack of success that has come with it. When Rosen speaks, he carries the knowledge of a man bruised, as philosophical as a 10-year veteran with 100 starts instead of a guy who has been on five teams in four seasons.

Atlanta provided Rosen a mentor to learn from and a spot on a 53-man roster. He has been able to watch Ryan, a one-time NFL MVP and one of the models of consistency and availability at quarterback the past decade, and pick up things he had not been exposed to before.

Rosen, like most quarterbacks, has his own intricacies to what he does, but for over a half-season now, he has been able to mimic what he has seen. Ryan said Rosen asks a lot of questions, trying to learn.

"He's a big writing guy," Rosen said. "He likes writing calls over and over again as a way to get it in his head, and I like that technique a lot, too. So every morning you come in and you write out the calls and you say it to yourself and quiz yourself and you write it again and again and again.

"And it just burns it into your subconscious so you don't even have to think about it on game day."

That Rosen is figuring this out now is also an admission of what he failed to do early in his career. Since he has been in Atlanta, he has said there are things he wishes he had done differently in his earlier stops. Some of that went into how he did -- and didn't -- prepare.

Too often, he was concerned about what the other team might try to do -- sacrificing the time he needed to make sure he knew his team's own game plan well enough to be able to then use the nuances within it to solve what defenses might throw at him.

The last two seasons, watching Tom Brady and then Ryan, helped show him the value in approaching that first.

"I wasn't studying our game plan enough," Rosen said. "And here I've been doing that a bunch more and it just allows you to play really quick and operate and know your progression in your sleep. Like dream about those pass pictures.

"That's allowed me to establish a foundation, to know your game plan inside and out and move on to how is this going to apply to who you're playing."

Rosen knows they are out there, the perceptions of what -- rightly or wrongly -- people thought he was and still is. At every stop, in almost every interaction, he has had to defend himself, perhaps subconsciously, before he started working with someone or stepped into a building.

He doesn't have huge regrets, but when he was having a bad day early on, he would come into work "being a little pouty." He realizes now, with more maturity, he should have handled it better. How the visual of how he approached situations could rub off -- positively or negatively -- on an entire team.

They were lessons learned from Fitzpatrick, Brady and Ryan.

"I think it's, like, just a consistency and realize that everyone is looking at you and even if you're not maybe feeling it one day," Rosen said. "Just the will to persevere and keep pushing on is just inspiring to a lot of other guys."

It's here he has had help. Rosen meditates by himself daily using an app. A mellow person, he has found it helps keep him calmer.

As COVID-19 started and his career was once again being tossed around in a high-heat, high-speed dryer, Rosen connected with someone who understood his situation. Someone who believed he could assist.

Rich Gannon had been everything in the NFL, from undrafted backup to the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 2002 and a four-time Pro Bowler. In retirement, he'd done broadcasting work and helped young quarterbacks. When a mutual friend reached out asking if he'd talk to Rosen, he'd heard the same things everyone else did.

But his friend asked again, telling Gannon that Rosen was "a really good kid and he's had some bad luck." So he met with him over Zoom and told him if they were going to work together, he was going to give feedback. He was going to be critical. He was going to coach him.

"I could tell from the very first conversation that he was really, like, beat up," Gannon said. "I just think he was emotionally drained.

"He had been through a lot of garbage, you know what I mean and a lot of people gave up on him."

Gannon also saw a player -- a person -- who knew he was running out of NFL opportunities. He saw someone who wanted to learn and figure out how to get better. So, in hourslong sessions over Zoom -- Gannon said they've still never met in person -- they went through everything.

The retired quarterback spent time in his office late at night breaking down game film of Rosen. Then together they watched every interception Rosen threw, every sack he took.

"I could tell from the very first conversation that he was really, like, beat up. I just think he was emotionally drained. He had been through a lot of garbage, you know what I mean, and a lot of people gave up on him." Rich Gannon, former NFL MVP

They queued up specific plays and Gannon had Rosen walk him through everything: the concept, the protection, the coverage, the issues he saw then and now. What he thought pre-snap. What his read was in the moment. Why he didn't throw it to a different player.

Rosen absorbed everything. Each session, he continued to prove the perception wrong. Since they couldn't work out together because of COVID regulations, Gannon went to a park near his Riverside, California, home and filmed drills to show Rosen how certain footwork patterns should be done.

"When enough people don't give you the feedback and don't give you the opportunity, I just think he felt like, 'I've got to show people I can do this. I want to do this. This is my legacy. I want to be a successful quarterback. I worked too hard to get to this point and not have the opportunity,'" Gannon said. "I think that's what he was fighting for."

In Gannon, Rosen had someone who believed. Who saw the potential he possessed. Gannon said Rosen is the first quarterback he'd put in that level of work with, that many hours.

Gannon also gave him advice. Told him whatever situation he went into, wherever it was, he had to make it competitive. Even if it was behind an entrenched starter, watch the guy, push the guy, find small segments to create competition. Coaches, Gannon said, will notice. And it would make Rosen better.

"He has been really supportive and helpful," Rosen said. "And it's just nice to ... it's always great to know someone has got your back."

When Rosen arrived in Atlanta he knew he'd receive one thing: A fair shot. Falcons coach Arthur Smith stressed that from the beginning. It was potentially a short-term opportunity -- Rosen signed the week of the final preseason game, practiced three times and then played the fourth quarter against Cleveland.

It was a new chance to make a first impression. He completed 9 of 18 passes for 118 yards and Atlanta's only passing touchdown of the preseason. After, he called it "a little bit refreshing" to just be able to go out and play, even though he was still learning the offense and the guys he was playing with.

Yet Rosen felt comfortable -- the best he'd felt throwing the ball in a while. His first impression worked well. How he worked stuck out to Smith and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone -- enough to keep him as the team's backup behind Ryan.

"It's a tough business and you've had the journey Josh has had, cut a bunch of times in a short amount of time," Smith said. "Like I said, we're all human. It's no different than coaches that move around a bunch in a short span of time. So I think sometimes different people, they earn it and he has.

"We'll just see where it goes. I'll say this about Josh. A lot of people, they don't withstand what he has and I appreciate that about him."

In San Francisco, it was a similar experience. Niners coach Kyle Shanahan liked Rosen and appreciated his newfound approach. Shanahan told ESPN he wanted to keep Rosen around, but San Francisco's quarterback situation with Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo made it difficult. After what Rosen had been through prior to San Francisco, Shanahan said that can "ruin a lot of people." He didn't see that in Rosen.

He saw someone humbled, for sure, but wanting to learn everything he could. Wanting to find a way to finally start.

"When you're a talented thrower like that, sometimes you can take shortcuts but that's not the guy I saw," Shanahan said. "He was very detailed in his feet, where to go with the ball, when to go with the ball and even though it wasn't much game tape, I thought he looked a lot better than the guy that I saw earlier in his career on game tape."

After San Francisco released Rosen, Atlanta called and asked about him. Shanahan said he recommended him highly because he believes in what he saw in Rosen. Shanahan saw a player who was learning from his early career mistakes, knew where he had to improve and "was working at it so hopefully at his next opportunity he'd be ready."

Rosen has settled into his role in Atlanta. He learns constantly from Ryan -- both in helping Ryan prepare for games Sundays and also trying to get himself ready in case he is forced into action, which has happened three times in blowouts this season. He meets weekly with Ragone to go over what he's being asked to do, how he has done it and what he can improve on.

Ryan said Rosen has given "great effort" and comes in with a "great attitude" while acknowledging the situation he came into was not ideal. But he picked everything up.

"I don't know the other experiences and what the situations were," Ryan said. "I always come in with an open mind and that's been the same with teammates that have come and gone throughout my career. Since he's been here, he's been great."

After practices, he has stayed behind to work with younger players just to pick up more reps -- perhaps something he took from Gannon, who told him what he used to do as a backup, grabbing other young players to try and build chemistry with them. How, in Kansas City, he viewed his role as having games Wednesday and Thursday in practice and his opponent was then-Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. The two of them would go at it -- and sometimes Gannon would get the better of Kansas City's defense. It got noticed.

It's not starting games. It's not being the first-round pick Rosen once was. But it is a job in the NFL and a chance, perhaps for the first time in his career, to really sit back and learn. It's something he didn't have as a rookie. Something he didn't really have in Miami, either. And yeah, it's let him wonder now and again about how things might be different if he'd walked into more stability.

"I mean, every now and then but the world is a bunch of shoulda, woulda, couldas," Rosen said. "And that's a fun rabbit hole to dive down every now and then but not really, not for the most part."

He doesn't need to do that anymore. He's in a different place now. A better place, a more confident, comfortable, peaceful place than he ever has been in the NFL. This is Josh Rosen now. And he is very, very OK with that.

ESPN reporter Nick Wagoner contributed to this report