Falcons’ Smith officially names Ridder starting QB

NFL

Atlanta Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Tuesday that second-year pro Desmond Ridder will begin the season as the team’s starting quarterback.

Smith, speaking with reporters at the league meetings in Arizona, committed publicly to Ridder for the first time since the end of the season, after Ridder went 2-2 over the final four games of Atlanta’s season.

“The plan is to start Desmond,” Smith told reporters in Arizona. “That’s our plan going forward right now.”

Atlanta drafted Ridder in the third round out of Cincinnati last year. He spent the first 13 games of the season backing up Marcus Mariota before being named the starter after the team’s bye week in December. In those four games, Ridder completed 73 of 115 passes for 708 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

After the season, both Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot said they were encouraged by Ridder’s progress, but they stopped short of naming him the starter until Monday.

Atlanta signed Taylor Heinicke earlier this month in free agency, but Heinicke said in his introductory news conference he was coming to Atlanta to be the backup quarterback, essentially clearing the path for Ridder to start.

“As a young guy coming into this league, there’s a lot thrown at you from every direction and it’s hard to kind of balance whatever is going on,” Heinicke said. “Shaun [Hill] was a great mentor for me, helped me through that process and I hope to be the same to Desmond.

“If he needs anything from me or anything I can help him with, excited to work with him.”

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