Ryan ready for debut at Falcons' minicamp

ATLANTA -- Matt Ryan will have his first chance to prove he can be more than just another clipboard-toting rookie observer when the new Atlanta Falcons quarterback participates in a three-day minicamp beginning on Saturday.

Ryan, the No. 3 overall selection in last month's NFL draft, is the Falcons' quarterback of the future, but can that future begin as early as the 2008 season?

The Falcons have 2007 starters Chris Redman and Joey Harrington returning at quarterback. Also back is former Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley, who missed last season with a knee injury and has never played in a regular-season game.

Redman finished the team's 4-12 2007 season as the starter. Harrington opened the season as the starter. Ryan could have the opportunity to move past the veterans as a rookie.

First-year Falcons coach Mike Smith says he's open to the idea of a rookie starting at any position.

"I want them to have the mind-set that they're going to come in here and compete to play from day one," Smith said. "I think it's very, very important as a football player that you compete to be the starter.

"If he's the best player, whether he's a rookie quarterback or rookie offensive lineman or rookie linebacker, we want those guys to come in here and compete. We're going to put the best player out there on the field."

The Falcons will have two practice sessions Saturday and Sunday at their Flowery Branch facility and another practice on Monday. The minicamp, open to the public on Saturday and Sunday, is mandatory for all rookies and veterans.

"We are excited to have our entire 2008 Falcons team together for the first time," Smith said Friday. "This camp is important for our guys to learn the new systems while at the same time building team chemistry."

The Falcons have other new players expected to make an immediate impact, including running back Michael Turner, but Ryan, the former Boston College star, will no doubt be the most-watched player of the minicamp.

"I just can't wait to get this thing started," Ryan said after the draft. "I'm just happy to be here, and can't wait to be back down for minicamp. ... I'm very excited."

Ryan (6-5, 228) ranked third in the nation with his school-record 4,507 yards passing in 2007, but he threw 19 interceptions and was No. 115 in the nation with his 127.0 passer rating.

Another rookie to watch is Southern Cal offensive tackle Sam Baker, the team's second first-round pick, who could immediately earn a starting job. The Falcons cut veteran tackle Wayne Gandy after last season and Todd Weiner is returning from a knee injury.

A rookie of local interest is former Georgia running back Thomas Brown, a sixth-round pick who will compete for a spot behind Turner and Jerrious Norwood.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.

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