Matt Ryan feeling as young as ever in new scheme
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Now in his eighth training camp with the Atlanta Falcons, Matt Ryan says he has never felt better physically before the start of the season.
The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, who turned 30 in May, is pleased to report that his body is in fine shape after absorbing 75 sacks over the previous two seasons.
If he were using the same scheme behind the same offensive line this season, Ryan might risk major injury after missing just two games in his first seven seasons.
That's the last thing the Falcons want to see happen to their $100 million investment.
''From that standpoint, I think we've done such a great job in training here and in our offseason program that I feel as good as I ever have,'' Ryan said Sunday.
After going a combined 56-22 in their first five years together, Ryan and the Falcons have a 10-22 record since advancing to the 2012 NFC title game.
Nobody at team headquarters envisioned such a falloff, but the collapse led to the firing of head coach Mike Smith and the departure of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter for Tampa Bay.
New head coach Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan hope to keep Ryan clean in the pocket by protecting him with a zone blocking scheme, better use of play action and a dependable running game.
Quinn likes how quickly Ryan and Shanahan have forged a close working relationship.
''I walked by today (and heard Ryan say to Shanahan), `I really like this, and we can add that,' " Quinn said. ''So you can see how fast Matt's mind is spinning. What a competitor he is. That's what I love about Matt.''
Ryan is excited to have more chances to throw on the run. Though he still makes his share of questionable throws into tight coverage, Ryan also suffers from being stationary in the pocket.
That's not Shanahan's plan.
''I've done it at different points in my career,'' Ryan said. ''It's been a big part of Kyle's scheme in the past and we'll figure out how it shapes to our personnel and how it shapes to the game plans that we're going to put in, but we're certainly working on it.''
On the third day of camp and the first day in full pads Sunday, Ryan got a first glimpse of what his new receivers can do against tight, physical coverage.
Anyone who follows the Falcons knows how well star receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White mesh with Ryan, but rookie Justin Hardy, a fourth-round draft pick from East Carolina, has looked sharp in the slot and veteran Leonard Hankerson, a free agent signee coming back from major knee problems, gives Ryan a solid top four.
But Ryan doesn't discount what 10th-year veteran Devin Hester, the NFL career leader with 20 touchdowns scored as a return specialist, brings to the scheme. Hester is coming off his best season as a receiver since 2010 with Chicago.
''Any time you have a guy like that, you have to find a way to get the ball in his hands,'' Ryan said. ''I think he showcased last year what kind of receiver he is. He's a guy that goes out there and gives you as many reps at that spot as you need and he's going to make plays.''
White believes the entire offense will make it a priority to give Ryan options to distribute the ball to as many playmakers as possible. To do that, he must stay on his feet.
The number sacks Ryan took in his first four seasons - an average of 21.3 - was bad enough, but White says the 34.3 sacks he averaged the past two seasons were an embarrassment.
''We have all of the people that we need to be a better football team,'' White said. ''We just have to go out there and execute. Just go out there and find a way to win ballgames.''
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