Matt Schaub stands, looking up, at the base of football's equivalent to Mount Everest.

With one of the league's best in front of him at quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, Schaub hasn't had to compete in the sort of position battle that the Redskins' signal callers have endured during the preseason.

Few teams have absolutes at quarterback -- the Colts' Peyton Manning, the Titans' Steve McNair and the Patriots' Tom Brady are notable exceptions -- but Atlanta makes the short list in that category. Schaub knows once the season starts that he'll be spending far more time on the sidelines backing up Michael Vick than on the playing field.

Unless, of course, Vick succumbs to another injury, like he did last year.

With Vick getting pounded by the Redskins' defense, the Falcons' star quarterback got a quick hook in last night's 27-0 loss to Washington, giving way to Schaub with 3 minutes 17 seconds left in the first quarter after just three passing attempts.

While Schaub, the rookie out of the University of Virginia, failed to impress in quite the same manner as he has throughout the preseason -- a few drops from his wide receivers didn't help -- he still had a solid game in relief of Vick, completing 12 of 23 passes for 128 yards. During the second quarter, Schaub, while rolling to his right, sent a tight spiral to a wide open Brian Finneran, who took the ball downfield for a 53-yard gain, the team's longest of the night.

Drafted in the third round in 2004, Schaub has elevated himself to the point of possibly overtaking 36-year-old veteran Ty Detmer to move into second in line behind Vick.

"I expect a lot out of myself," Schaub said. "But to have some of the success I've had, I'm not incredibly surprised about it because I have great teammates. They've done a great job all around. It's just not me. It's all 11 guys and all 22 guys."

Racking up 527 yards on 42-of-63 passing prior to facing the Redskins, Schaub has been one of the best rookies in the preseason. He's also taken the lion's share of both the snaps and the pounding during the preseason, with 86 passing attempts compared to 22 for Vick and Detmer combined. Schaub played the bulk of the game against the Redskins, with Detmer entering in the fourth quarter, posting 39 yards on 4-for-4 passing.

But Schaub, despite his impressive outings, hasn't locked up the job as Vick's backup.

"That's not as cut-and-dried as people would think," Falcons Coach Jim Mora Jr. said of a decision that should be made by Tuesday. "People think that because Schauby had the great preseason and Ty struggled, that's the way you would go, but I don't know that it's that black and white."

At the same time, Mora ticked off the qualities he's seen out of his third-round draft choice, who's 6-foot-5, 237 pounds.

"Poise. Great decision-making. Mobility for a big man. Accuracy under pressure," Mora said.

Much of the reason for Schaub's emergence during the preseason is his familiarity with the offense. The Falcons run the West Coast offense, something that Schaub knows well from his days with the Cavaliers.

That experience has allowed him to outplay some of his fellow draftees, including No. 1 pick Eli Manning of the New York Giants and Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But the system isn't the only reason Schaub has taken to playing in Atlanta. At the start of his career with Virginia, the quarterback's parents moved to Marietta, Ga., under the shadows of the Georgia Dome.

Vick got laid out on a hit from Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington, and Schaub and the Falcons know that such a blow could take their quarterback out of the running at any time.

"As a player, you always want to play, whether you're a backup or a third teamer," Schaub said. "You've got to prepare as if you're gonna play. So when you're called upon, you can go out and do well."

Atlanta Coach Jim Mora Jr. on Matt Schaub's attributes: "Poise. Great decision-making. Mobility for a big man. Accuracy under pressure." That's not a bad start for the rookie quarterback from Virginia.