Save Yourself: How Falcons Trainers Stimulate the Minds of Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder

It was during the Washington game in Week 4 of the 2021 season that the headphones went out. Usually used for Arthur Smith and the coaching staff to communicate with Matt Ryan on the field, there was only silence. And without missing a beat, Ryan continued. A decade’s worth of experience improvising made it just a small frustration.

With a game won by Washington by the slim margin of four points, calling a timeout in that situation because of a headset problem was not something that was in the cards. This happens more often than you think. Headphones go off. Communication fails. Injuries are increasing. Defenses change their appearance. All in all, the role of a quarterback is to be a crisis manager, and to do so easily. It’s an underrated skill that every quarterback must have.

And unlike many skills that separate the one percent of players who make it to the league against everyone else, this skill can be taught and repeated.

“You try to build those (situations) in because you don’t want to sit there and call timeout every time,” Smith said. “That’s their job to fix things sometimes, too.”

Charles London, the Falcons quarterbacks coach, called it the art of saving oneself.

“We talk a lot with the guys at the position that they have to learn to save themselves and save the team,” London said. “On game day, we’re not out there helping them. They’ve got to save themselves and put the kids in the right spot. They’ve got to know what to do. They’ve got to point (the offense) in the right spot. Direction. It’s part of the job. to be a quarterback to try to steer them in that direction.”

When it comes to being able to do that, it’s as much mental as it is physical. It is a game of chess, and the only way to perfect this part of craft is to learn it thoroughly. And that’s where it starts for Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder.

“Our job as a coach, you’re really a teacher,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, they’re the ones who are out there on the field, so we’re trying to educate them and understand so we’re in sync.”

Smith doesn’t want to make this teaching easy on Mariota or Ridder, either. There are many ways you can set up until comfort, but Smith said the ultimate goal is to challenge them so they understand the “why” behind the play call.

You push them every day to understand that, Smith said. It’s one of the things Mariota said he likes most about this staff.

“I think they challenge us,” Mariota said. “They want us to understand why we run certain concepts, what covers we run against. For us, it’s mentally stimulating because it’s challenging to look at it from a different perspective.”

“I think what’s really great about Art and this staff is that they try to stimulate your mind constantly. There’s always brand new ideas. There’s always something we’re always talking about. So, for me, I enjoy that part of it .”

It’s good that there’s mental stimulation and enjoyment from Mariota’s perspective because the act of doing this, of understanding the deeper meaning behind a play call, often involves ripping it to the point of being comfortable doing it on the fly. The repetition of this can sometimes be mundane.

It’s doing the same things over and over until there’s no thinking, just doing. There is no question of what comes next, there is only the answer.

And the time to do that comes during the offseason programs and training camp.

“Now we’re putting in what we’ll call a check system with our offense. We want plays designed within plays,” Ridder said. “… For us as quarterbacks — mentally — it’s adding new checks every day and then going out (to practice) and hitting them against the looks we want to see.”

It does this until the wheels fall off, because at some point the wheels will. Headphones go off. Communication fails. Injuries are increasing. Defenses change their appearance. And someone — whether it’s Mariota or Ridder or both — is going to have to get all 11 players in an offensive set.

They will have to save themselves, and the team. This offseason they are training to do just that.

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