FLOWERY BRANCH — Think playing quarterback is tough?
Try selling insurance.
“I thought the NFL was a cutthroat business,” Chris Redman joked Wednesday, coming off the field after a two-hour practice with the Atlanta Falcons. “Let me tell you, the insurance business is just as cutthroat.”
Redman should know. He was out of the NFL for three long years, time spent getting an idea of life in the real world. He found it was a lot more fun playing football than going door to door trying to sell property and casualty insurance to major corporations.
“Cold calls,” they’re known as. “You’re walking up, you don’t even know who you’re going to be talking to and you’re trying to get their business,” Redman said. “I could tell them I used to be an NFL player, but you’ve got to work, too. I wasn’t the best at it. I had been playing football my whole life. Football is what I’m best at. It was definitely an eye opener.”
Redman’s entree back into the league was Bobby Petrino’s hiring as Falcons coach before last season. The two had been together at Louisville, though few expected Redman to make it past training camp. After all, Atlanta had Michael Vick as the starter, newcomer Joey Harrington penciled in as the backup and local favorite D.J. Shockley holding down the third spot.
Well, we all know what happened next. Vick admitted to dogfighting charges and headed off to federal prison. Petrino bolted the team after just 13 games, leaving a trail of bitterness when he resigned suddenly to return to the college ranks at Arkansas.
But Redman is still around, having claimed the starting job late last season basically by default. He’s still got it, running the No. 1 offense this week at the first minicamp under new coach Mike Smith.
“It’s a totally different mind-set for me this year,” Redman said. “Last year, I was just worried about making the team and trying to contribute wherever I could. This year, I’ve kind of got a different role. I’ve got to step up my play. I’m putting more pressure on myself. I want this team to win.”
The Falcons didn’t do much winning in a 4-12 debacle, but Redman showed promise the final month of a lost year. After throwing one pass in the first 11 games, he took over for Harrington at St. Louis and threw for 172 yards and two touchdowns. The following week, Redman made his first start since 2002, completing 23 of 40 for 298 yards and two more scores in a Monday night loss to New Orleans.
Petrino quit the following day, but interim coach Emmitt Thomas stuck with Redman. He had an awful game against Tampa Bay (4 of 15, 34 yards, two interceptions) but finished strongly with a career-best 315 yards at Arizona and a career-high four touchdowns in an upset of playoff-bound Seattle in the finale.
While Redman is understandably appreciative of the chance Petrino gave him, he clearly doesn’t want to be known as Bobby’s boy. There are still plenty of guys around who remember the way Petrino left, leaving behind an impersonal letter that led one player to add the word “coward.”
“Obviously, I did not agree with the way he left,” Redman said. “At the same time, he’s a good coach. I would never say anything about him not being able to coach. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around. I wish him the best. It was the best thing for everyone.”
Redman started his career with the Baltimore Ravens. He played 10 games in four years, including six starts, but his career was sidetracked by shoulder and back problems. From 2004-06, he was cut by New England and Tennessee, and flopped in a tryout with Cincinnati.
Redman wants to settle down with the Falcons, signing a two-year contract to remain with a team that’s in full rebuilding mode heading into Year 2 A.V. — After Vick.
“Chris has done a nice job coming back from being out of the league for three years,” Smith said. “It’s a great story. He played efficiently there at the end of the season.”
Redman appears to have little competition from the quarterbacks on hand. Harrington has now flopped as a starter with three teams, and Shockley is still recovering from a serious knee injury. The Falcons almost surely will pick a quarterback in the upcoming draft, perhaps Matt Ryan at No. 3 overall, but it will be hard for any rookie to claim the job right away.
After struggling offensively with Harrington and injury plagued Byron Leftwich (who was released), the Falcons seemed to show more faith in Redman. He completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 1,079 yards, with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions.
“He’s not flashy. He’s not egotistical. He’s not cocky,” said fullback Ovie Mughelli, who played with Redman at Baltimore and is now lining up with him again. “What he has is a quiet confidence that’s necessary to lead a team.”
The Falcons are in dire need of confidence. Veterans like Warrick Dunn and Alge Crumpler were cut during the offseason, and Redman could find a bunch of rookies lining up around him.
It remains to be seen how he’ll do in a system other than Petrino’s. Smith’s offensive staff is installing a power running game that’s built around newcomer Michael Turner and speedy holdover Jerious Norwood.
“We’re going to be able to get some guys wide open because (defenses) will have to put extra guys in the box,” Redman said. “I think it’s a great offense. I’m really excited about it.”
It sure beats selling insurance.