ATLANTA -- For a 44-year-old, Steve DeBerg still thinks a lot of his ability to play quarterback in the NFL.
"I would bet I can be more productive this year than the two quarterbacks drafted first," he said. "The learning curve is so steep."
It remains to be seen whether the Atlanta Falcons' newly signed backup to Chris Chandler outperforms Peyton Manning of Indianapolis, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, or No. 2 Ryan Leaf of San Diego. But he plans to give it his best.
"Defenses have gotten so advanced it takes more just to understand what you can and can't do," DeBerg said at the start of the Falcons' minicamp.
DeBerg threw a handful of passes during the workout.
"Maybe my arm isn't as strong as it was, but my release is quicker, and my mechanics are better," said DeBerg, whose last action in the NFL came five years ago with Tampa Bay and Miami. "I got out of the huddle just fine today. Everything seemed to be moving kind of fast, but it will slow down. I wouldn't be here if it didn't."
DeBerg was signed to a one-year deal by Atlanta last week because of concerns that Mark Rypien may not play this season. Rypien is dealing with the serious health problems of his wife and son and is all but certain not to join the team in time for training camp July 23.
After splitting 1993 between Tampa Bay and Miami, DeBerg coached quarterbacks in 1995-96 with the New York Giants under Dan Reeves, who is now the head coach of the Falcons.
"As a coach, you prepare so much more," said DeBerg, who has been giving interviews to reporters from the cities where he played -- San Francisco, Tampa Bay and Kansas City. "I began studying throwing techniques, because I had to explain it. I learned a lot about quick release, power and accuracy."
He apparently learned enough to impress Reeves during a tryout with the Falcons on June 23.
In addition to being backup for Chandler, DeBerg is expected to tutor second-year quarterback Tony Graziani or rookie free agent Brian Brennan. Reeves said one of the three backups will be cut.
If he makes the team, 42-year-old Warren Moon, who starts for Seattle, would be the second oldest player in the NFL.
"I admire Warren, but he's a young guy," DeBerg joked.
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