FLOWERY BRANCH — As a resident of the nearby Lake Lanier Islands, Chris Redman has shown Matt Ryan the right way to fish in fresh water.
As one of the NFL’s rising stars, Ryan has been helped by Redman as they have helped make the Atlanta Falcons into a playoff contender.
"Anything I can do to help him improve — that’s what I want to do," Redman said Monday. "Ultimately, I think he’s going to be a Hall of Fame quarterback. I really do. I think he’s that caliber of guy."
Redman, the favorite to work a second straight season as Ryan’s primary backup, proved invaluable in helping the 2008 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
"All the work Chris does is really hard to appreciate unless you see it the way we do, up close," Ryan said. "He’s a leader in our meeting room, and all of our quarterbacks know it."
Watching last season as his teammates made the plays to win 11 games and earn a wild-card playoff spot, Redman used his desire to compete to fuel an eagerness to help Ryan mature.
"Some of the games we try to pick up on signals, or if he’s a little late on something or didn’t see something and went to the wrong side, I’ll point out what I saw," Redman said. "He knows when he’s playing good and when he’s not. We try to keep a good routine, on and off the field, and it made a big difference because he works so hard, as much as anybody on the team."
Mentoring a friend and teammate, however, only goes so far for a third-round draft choice of Baltimore in 2000. Redman wants to play, not at Ryan’s expense, but his love for football and excelling at the game’s highest level means more.
"You have to be prepared so you’ll be ready if you get thrown in there," he said. "I’m trying to see what they’re doing in different down and distance situations. I want to see if I’d make the same decision and I try to make my decision a split-second before Matt does to see if that’s where I would’ve went."
The Falcons are likely to give Redman much of the second half to work when San Diego makes a preseason visit to the Georgia Dome on Saturday.
D.J. Shockley, a third-year backup with no game experience, threw two interceptions and nearly had another pair in last week’s 20-13 exhibition victory in St. Louis.
Fourth-string quarterback John Parker Wilson, an undrafted rookie from Alabama, led other reserves on an 11-play drive for a field goal on Atlanta’s final possession.
Coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey are planning for Ryan and most of the other starters to play the first half against San Diego.
NFL teams routinely prepare regular-season equivalent game plans for the third exhibition, so the staff should have a better idea where Redman, Shockley and Wilson stand after Saturday.
"It’s an open competition," Smith said. "Chris has the most experience. Chris has played in games, but we’re going through a true evaluation, and we want to stay true to that process."
Ryan took every one of Atlanta’s 1,011 offensive snaps last season, and part of the credit belongs to Mularkey’s mandate to make an accurate read and frustrate the pass rush by making a play quickly.
Ryan was sacked 17 times last season, impressive considering that the Falcons gave up an average of 45 from 2004-2007.
Another important dynamic is that Ryan is durable. He started all 14 games and threw 31 touchdown passes for Boston College while being the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year in 2007. As a junior, Ryan excelled despite a foot injury and led the school to a 9-3 record while passing for 4,806 yards and 25 touchdowns.
"There’s a lot to like about Matt," Redman said. "He’s competitive, he’s smart and he really understands the game. It’s my job to be ready if anything happens to him, but it’s also my job to help him get better."