FLOWERY BRANCH - Matt Schaub's confidence rose last season when he threw four touchdown passes with no interceptions.
But the bigger confidence-builder for the Atlanta Falcons' quarterback came in the offseason.
First came reports that the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings, among other teams, were interested in Schaub. The Jets reportedly offered to trade three-time Pro Bowl defensive end John Abraham for Schaub.
Then came the welcome news the Falcons didn't want to trade Schaub.
The Falcons wanted Abraham but refused to give up Schaub, instead sending their 2006 first-round draft pick to the Jets in the deal.
The conclusion is the Falcons rate Schaub at least as valuable as a first-round pick.
''For teams to take note of me is very flattering, and at the same time it says a lot about the Falcons and how they value me,'' Schaub said Thursday.
Schaub, a third-round pick in 2004, worked with the first-team offense Wednesday and Thursday after starter Michael Vick suffered a slight strain of his right hamstring Tuesday.
The latest injury to Vick is another reminder to Schaub that he must always be ready, perhaps more so than for most backup quarterbacks. Vick has missed at least one game in each of his four years as a starter, and he played in only five games in 2003.
''I think it might be a little more exaggerated based on how Mike plays,'' Schaub said of the necessity of always being on standby. ''With the way he plays, you've always got to be ready.''
Vick may return to practice today or for the team's ''Midtown Touchdown'' practice and fan festival at Piedmont Park and Grady High stadium Saturday.
Until then, Schaub is taking advantage of the increased snaps with the No. 1 offense.
Schaub says his comfort level this year also has been boosted by his reunion with new quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave, who also was his position coach for two years at Virginia.
''When I walked through the door for the first time here he was probably thinking 'How do I get away from this guy?''' Musgrave said with a laugh Thursday.
Musgrave spent 2005 as quarterbacks coach of the Washington Redskins, where he helped revive quarterback Mark Brunell's career.
Musgrave said Schaub has made ''tremendous'' progress since the two last worked together in 2002, when Schaub was the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year as a junior after setting a school record with 28 touchdown passes.
''He has progressed at a very fast rate,'' Musgrave said.
Said Schaub: ''It's good to have him back. I know how he gets his point across. He also knows me.''
Schaub had a 98.1 quarterback rating last season when he completed 33 of 64 passes. With a minimum of 100 passing attempts, the rating would rank as the fourth-best in team history.
In his only start against New England, Schaub passed for 298 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 31-28 loss. It was the Falcons' second-highest total for passing yards in the season, and it came against the then-defending Super Bowl champions.
When filling in for Vick in the second half against Carolina, Schaub completed 9 of 13 passes with a touchdown and no interceptions.
Schaub also made a strong case for his promising future in the 2004 preseason, when he led the NFL with 655 passing yards, 54 completions and six touchdowns.
While the 6-foot-5 Schaub is a drop-back passer, the offense has been built around the running game led by tailback Warrick Dunn and Vick.
The Falcons showed how much they like Schaub last winter, but his future will be an issue again next offseason when he is a restricted free agent. Schaub, 25, is only one year younger than Vick.
At some point, Schaub may become more valuable for what he could bring the team in a trade than what he provides as insurance for losing Vick to an injury. But the Falcons fear Schaub becoming another Brett Favre, a quarterback who can't find playing time in Atlanta and becomes a star with another team.
There has been more attention this training camp on the competition between Bryan Randall and D.J. Shockley for the No. 3 spot. Because Schaub is established as the backup, Randall and Shockley may see more playing time in the preseason games.
For now, Schaub is content to know that he is recognized as a future starter for some team.
''It's good to know that people recognize me,'' he said, ''especially since I've had such little time on the field.''