FLOWERY BRANCH-- Falcons coach Mike Smith was extolling the virtues of Sean Renfree, the second-year quarterback from Duke, when he offered some unsolicited praise for a rookie quarterback.
"The (Jeff) Mathews kid, the young undrafted rookie, he has done some things," Smith said. "He’s got a nice arm. He’s intelligent player. I think it’s wide open as far as far as who our No. 2 quarterback is going to be."
Those comments were a bit surprising even in light of Smith's oft-repeated declaration this off season that there would be real competition for several jobs.
For one, Dominique Davis has been entrenched as Matt Ryan's primary backup for the past two seasons. Also, the Falcons are high on Renfree as a developmental prospect and liked what they saw before he was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury suffered during the final preseason game in 2013.
"Sean is a very cerebral quarterback," Smith said. "He played at Duke for David Cutcliffe. David Cutcliffe has (coached) a long line of quarterbacks that have played in the NFL."
Mathews, meanwhile, started for three-plus years at Cornell (he started five of 10 games as a freshman). He set an Ivy League record for career passing yards (11,284) and was named the league's player of the year as a sophomore.
Now he apparently has a real chance to make the roster as Ryan's backup.
"That’s exciting," Mathews said. "That’s what you want to hear. I think coach does an unbelievable job of breeding competition. That’s what you want as a player is make sure you can compete for a job. That’s what I’m here for. That’s what I’m looking forward to."
It's a big leap to the NFL from the Ivy League, which competes at the FCS level and doesn't award scholarships. Mathews acknowledged that's the case, citing the difference in the speed of the players and the tempo of the game, but said he's adjusted to the change during OTAs and the minicamp.
Mathews said his extensive playing experience in college gives him an edge.
"I think anytime you get game experience it’s very valuable at any level," he said. "Obviously now I have to transition that to the pro game, which is very different. There’s a learning curve and I’m trying to get through that as quick as possible."