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Taylor Heinicke focused on being ‘best backup’ possible for Desmond Ridder

The new Atlanta quarterback said he was close to re-joining Washington before the Falcons swooped in.

NFL: Washington Football Team at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

As the Falcons’ plans for the future slowly unfold, all signs continue to point to Desmond Ridder as Atlanta’s starting quarterback.

Fulfilling their promise to add to their quarterback room this offseason, the Falcons signed former Washington starter and Georgia native Taylor Heinicke. At the time the intention to sign was initially reported, it was frequently noted by media members that Heinicke was coming in to be the primary backup to Ridder.

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When Atlanta’s newest quarterback spoke to the media on Wednesday, he validated those reports in clear terms while fielding a question about his mindset.

“Try to be the best backup I can to [Ridder],” Heinicke told the media during his introductory press conference on Thursday. “Try to help him in any way I can.”

Heinicke said the Falcons were upfront with him in their intentions for signing him. And he understands the reality he’s walking into; Ridder is a second-year quarterback who improved in his four starts to close out the season, and the team is interested in seeing what he can do.

Should something unfortunate happen to Ridder along the way, Heinicke has already proven he can win as a spot-starter. He’s not the runner Marcus Mariota was, but Atlanta’s offense should be better under Heinicke if it comes to that.

For developing young quarterbacks, the backup can be as much a mentor figure as anything else. Once Heinicke made it clear he was willing to take on that role, he explained why it’s one he finds value in.

“I remember when I was a rookie, and my second year as well, we had Sean Hill in the room when I was in Minnesota,” He explained. “As a young guy coming in this league, there’s a lot of things that get thrown at you from every different direction. And it’s hard to kind of balance what’s going on. So, you know, Sean was a great mentor for me. He helped me a lot through that process, and I just hope to be the same to Desmond.”

Oftentimes mentorship in the NFL is discussed in terms of on-field improvement or in-game strategizing. As Heinicke highlighted, however, learning how to simply adjust to the ins and outs of not only life in the NFL but life as a true first-time adult is vitally important. Ridder has been praised for his work ethic and yearning to get better, which are qualities Heinicke can speak to.

After entering the league as an undrafted free agent, Heinicke found ways to stick around while learning from those around him. He eventually earned his time to shine – starting 24 games in the last two seasons. Heinicke was 12-12-1 as a starter for the Commanders, including two wins against the Falcons he now joins.

If Ridder is as motivated by improvement as his reputation suggests, he has someone who has walked that path and can speak from experience. And Heinicke will know the blind spots that aren’t even on Ridder’s radar yet. All the while, the 30-year-old newcomer should be pushing Ridder on the field each and every day.

“Atlanta said they were interested from the beginning,” Heinicke said. “Didn’t know how interested they were, but there was some interest there. And, honestly, I was about to sign back with Washington about two or three days ago, and Atlanta comes in with a better offer.”

The Falcons have been decisive so far this offseason. Whatever their exact plan may be, at this point, Ridder factors in as the starter. Pairing him with the right wingman was always going to be an important part of the support system the organization builds around their former third-round pick.

We’ll never know where exactly Heinicke fell on the team’s board of free-agent quarterbacks, but the late push to close the deal suggests the interest was there. It’s becoming easy to see why.