FLOWERY BRANCH — Chris Redman has edged out rookie Matt Ryan and will start at quarterback in the Atlanta Falcons’ preseason opener Saturday night at Jacksonville.
Based on how often he has worked with the first-team offense in training camp, Ryan, the NFL’s No. 3 overall draft pick, would likely be the first quarterback to replace Redman in the exhibition game.
D.J. Shockley and Joey Harrington are essentially battling for the third-string job, but Falcons coach Mike Smith wants all four quarterbacks to play against the Jaguars.
"And as we go through the preseason, we will start a different quarterback in a different game," Smith said Thursday. "That’s the plan right now. We’re going to make sure that all of our guys have an opportunity to play with the first unit. It’s an open competition for those guys, and this will be the first opportunity for them."
Redman had gone three years without playing in an NFL game before the Falcons signed him 18 months ago. He started the last four games of 2007, finally earning a victory in the finale of Atlanta’s 4-12 season.
"Yeah, I’m excited," Redman said. "I think it’ll be a good test for our offense. Right now, we just need to go out and compete. I don’t think it means anything. We’ve got four quarterbacks here, so you just go out and compete and see what happens."
The Falcons signed Ryan, a former Boston College standout, to a six-year, $72 million contract last month that includes about $34.75 million in guarantees.
Smith, a first-year head coach, and Atlanta’s new offensive coordinator, Mike Mularkey, won’t rush Ryan onto the field, but the rookie’s accuracy and understanding of the scheme helped him surpass Shockley and Harrington on the depth chart.
"I think everybody’s a little excited heading in (to Jacksonville)," Ryan said. "For me, it’ll be good just to get one game under my belt, and then I’ll start to feel more comfortable."
Whoever begins the season as the Falcons’ starting quarterback will need to read coverages precisely and get the ball out of the pocket quickly behind a young and inexperienced offensive line.
Alex Stepanovich is working at center while starter Todd McClure nurses a back injury. Sam Baker, a late first-round pick this year, is at left tackle. Justin Blalock, the starting left guard, struggled through his rookie season last year.
Right guard Kynan Forney, a starter for nearly his entire seven-year career, has dropped behind Harvey Dahl, who spent most of the last three seasons on San Francisco’s practice squad.
Right tackle Todd Weiner is coming off major knee surgery that’s slowed him enough to keep Tyson Clabo atop the depth chart.
Redman is more concerned with making the right reads than trying to second-guess the qualifications of Atlanta’s line.
"When they tell me to go in the game, I’ll go," Redman said, "and when they tell me to come out, I’ll come out."Notes: Doug Datish, a reserve center-guard who was waived injured as a sixth-round draft choice last year, re-signed with the Falcons on Thursday. ... Smith said the Falcons might wait until Saturday afternoon to decide if receiver Laurent Robinson (back), cornerback Chris Houston (shoulder) and defensive tackle Rashad Moore (back) can play. ... Tight end Martrez Milner (ankle, toe) and McClure are both out.