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Former Tide QB seeking shot with Falcons
Atlanta Falcons rookie quarterback John Parker Wilson drops back to throw during minicamp in Flowery Branch. - photo by John Bazemore

FLOWERY BRANCH — John Parker Wilson waited all weekend to throw a pass to Tony Gonzalez.

Finally, after Falcons coach Mike Smith dismissed the team on the last day of Wilson’s first NFL mini-camp, the former Alabama starting quarterback worked one-on-one with Gonzalez, the NFL’s career-leading tight end.

The drill Sunday afternoon was nearly over before it began. Wilson threw maybe four 10-yard passes on Gonzalez’s hitch patterns, but the 23-year-old accomplished his goal. As an undrafted rookie free agent, he’s just trying to get noticed.

"I feel really good," Wilson said. "I’m just coming in here trying to learn as much as I can right now. Take what I learn in the room and bring it out on the field."

Because Wilson is listed fourth on the depth chart behind Matt Ryan, Chris Redman and D.J. Shockley, Wilson wasn’t afforded a chance to work with an Atlanta receiving corps led by Gonzalez, Pro Bowl wideout Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas and Brian Finneran.

Most of Wilson’s reps came with the third- and fourth-team offense, just two weeks after each of the league’s 32 teams decided not to draft him.

Though the majority of Alabama’s fan base might disagree, Wilson understands that NFL teams didn’t want him, either because they needed to use their draft picks on another position or they trusted their scouts’ assessments more than the quarterback’s ability to win games.

Sure, the Crimson Tide was unbeaten and ranked No. 1 before playing the Southeastern Conference title game five months ago, but Wilson knew scouts weren’t impressed with his arm strength.

"I didn’t really have any expectations going in. I would’ve liked to have been drafted, but ended up here, so I’m happy," he said. "I couldn’t be more happy. The draft didn’t work out, but I’m here and trying to make the best of it."

Ryan, who was named the league’s offensive rookie of the year after the Falcons drafted him No. 3 overall, wasted no time offering to help his new teammate.

"To me, he’s a great guy to learn from every day," Wilson said. "He’s just a tremendous quarterback. When I first got here, I didn’t know what to expect, but he’s a great guy. Very helpful. All the guys here are that way."

When Ryan arrived at his first mini-camp 12 months ago, Mike Smith was a rookie head coach, and new coordinator Mike Mularkey was installing Atlanta’s third offense in three years.

The Falcons also were coming off a disastrous 4-12 record that included the federal imprisonment of quarterback Michael Vick and the late-season resignation of first-year coach Bobby Petrino.

Ryan didn’t earn the starting job until Atlanta entered its final exhibition game, but he showed surprising maturity for a rookie quarterback, helping Atlanta finish 11-5 and surprise the league by earning a wild-card playoff spot. White and running back Michael Turner joined Ryan as Pro Bowl selections.

Now that the Falcons fully upgraded the tight end position with Gonzalez, they’re apparently set with their starting personnel on offense.

What’s important for Wilson is that Smith, Mularkey and quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave will give Wilson a chance to beat out Redman and Shockley for the No. 2 job.

"I don’t think we have any question about who’s our starter at quarterback, but John Parker has a very good understanding of the game," Smith said. "He’s picked it up. Any time you’re a rookie and playing the quarterback position, and you’ve got to take snaps and get in that huddle, it’s probably the most daunting thing that any football player has to do. He’s handled it extremely well."

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