Entering the offseason, the Falcons had Desmond Ridder at the top of their quarterback depth chart. The rookie ended the season as the starter in 2022, and Atlanta has expressed a desire to develop him as such heading into his second year.

In an interview with NFL Network’s Steve Wyche on Sunday, Falcons coach Arthur Smith said the team believes in Ridder so much, they wouldn’t have had a problem starting him in Week 1 over Marcus Mariota last season. He also maintained that the team plans to move forward in 2023 with the former Cincinnati star as the starter.

“When we drafted Desmond, he sat behind Marcus, and certainly, we thought going into Week 1, if he was ready to go and he played better than Marcus, we would’ve played him,” Smith said. “But it allowed us to bring him along. We didn’t feel like we had to rush him.”

Ridder started four total games last year, all of which came at the end of the season after Marcus Mariota left the team. He led Atlanta to a 2–2 record and totaled 708 passing yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Both of Ridder’s touchdowns came in Week 18, and Smith believes Ridder showed development over the course of the campaign.

“I thought he improved week after week, he was very effective on third and fourth down, and you saw in those last two weeks the growth he made from his first start to his third and fourth,” he said. “We’re excited for him.”

In the offseason, the Falcons added quarterback Taylor Heinicke as a veteran presence alongside Ridder this year. And, when asked about a possible pursuit at Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, Smith declined to answer.

“We are going to talk about our own players,” Smith said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.