FLOWERY BRANCH — Chris Redman already pulled off the improbable, going from insurance salesman to starting NFL quarterback.
He’s not going to just step aside quietly and let some hotshot rookie take his job.
While Matt Ryan is unquestionably the future of the Atlanta Falcons, Redman is living very much in the present. He has every intention of being out on the field for the first snap of the season Sept. 7.
"You’re always competing, no matter where you’re at," Redman said after a recent practice at training camp. "I’m just going out there and worrying about what I have to do. I’ll try to win some games and see what happens."
At some point, the Falcons will have to turn to Ryan, who was drafted No. 3 overall with the idea of helping the franchise get over the Michael Vick debacle. Redman knows that as well as anyone, but his task is to put off the inevitable as long as possible.
Bring it on, rookie!
"I think it’s awesome," Redman said. "I’m so excited. I get a chance to go against the best college quarterback in the nation. I get a chance to see where I’m at. I’ve been around a lot of great quarterbacks, and he’s another great quarterback. For me, it’s a lot of fun to be around those type of guys. I can help them and learn from them."
Certainly working in Redman’s favor is the major rebuilding project going on in Atlanta, which will rely heavily on youth after Vick was sent to prison for dogfighting and several prominent veterans — Alge Crumpler and Warrick Dunn among them — were let go for financial reasons.
Whoever lines up at quarterback will have a rookie left tackle (Sam Baker) protecting his back side, not to mention a second-year player (Justin Blaylock) at left guard and, quite possibly, two other starters (right tackle Tyson Clabo and right guard Harvey Dahl) who weren’t even drafted out of college.
Do the Falcons really want to put an untested rookie — especially a valuable investment such as Ryan, who received a six-year, $72 million contract — on the field behind that sort of line? Do they remember what happened to David Carr in Houston?
Redman certainly wouldn’t mind holding down the spot while Ryan develops from the safety of the sideline.
"I think I’ve earned my respect around here," the incumbent starter said. "As long as I do my part, I’ll be OK."
Redman was certainly one of the few bright spots in a dismal 2007 season. After three years out of the league, he only got a chance because his former college coach, Bobby Petrino, had taken over in Atlanta. Redman not only made the team, he outlasted the coach — Petrino stunningly bolted for Arkansas after only 13 games with the Falcons.
At first, Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich played hot potato with the post-Vick starting job. You take it! No, you take it! Finally, with nothing to lose, the Falcons gave their third-stringer a shot.
Over the final month, Redman threw for 298 yards in his first start against New Orleans, had a career-best 315-yard performance at Arizona and passed for four touchdowns, another career high, in the season finale against Seattle, earning the NFC offensive player of the week award.
There was a dismal outing at Tampa Bay, where Redman completed just 4 of 15 passes for 34 yards with two interceptions, but his overall numbers were much better than either of the other two quarterbacks who came before him. He completed 59.7 percent for 1,079 yards, with 10 touchdowns, five interceptions and a respectable passer rating of 90.7.
By comparison, Harrington’s rating was 77.2, while Leftwich managed just a 51.4 during his rare appearances between injuries. He was let go after the season.
Redman has worked with the first team during the opening week of training camp, with Ryan also getting plenty of snaps. Harrington is still around but appears to be battling for the No. 3 job with D.J. Shockley, who missed all of last year recovering from knee surgery.
"I have a good relationship with all those guys," Ryan said. "We’re all trying to help each other. Although we’re competitive and we’re all working for the same job, as a team we’re working toward a common goal. We’re all teammates."
No matter how it turns out, Redman is sure glad to be playing football rather than selling property and casualty insurance. That’s what he relied on to pay the bills during those three long years away from the NFL.
"I’ll never take football for granted anymore," Redman said. "I have the same attitude that I had last year. You just want to be grateful for every day you’ve got. I was out there selling insurance not too long ago. Now, I’m performing inside the ropes instead of outside the ropes. That’s great for me, but I want to keep it all in perspective. This is a blessing."
He’d like to hang on to it as long as he can.
The rookie can wait.
"I’m just happy to be here. But at the same time, I’m ready to play," Redman said. "I feel like I’m definitely a lot further along than I was last year."