Matt Ryan, at age 32 and set to enter the prime of his already sterling career, has doggedly remained true to his self, the team as he’s continue to work on his game over the years.
It’s his stable, understated and dynamic leadership that has vaulted the Falcons from a solid playoff team early in his career to defending NFC champions and Super Bowl contenders.
Ryan has put the historic Super Bowl LI collapse in his rear-view mirror and spent his efforts on getting on the same page with new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and quarterback coach Bush Hamdan.
Ryan’s offseason plan hasn’t changed much over time, but he continues to find ways to stay motivated.
“I think we all are searching for ways to get better,” Ryan said. “If you are not trying to find things to improve on and to work at, I think boredom could set in.
“But when you are constantly trying to find ways to improve, as a competitor you’re going after that so hard that boredom doesn’t really set in.”
Ryan, who became the first player in franchise history to win the league’s most valuable player award last season, remains passionate about the game.
“This is what I love to do,” Ryan said. “It’s the only thing, honestly, that I every wanted to do. I’m lucky and fortunate to be able to do it. I enjoy it every day. Ten years in, it’s still exciting to be at minicamp. It’s fun to be out there and playing this game.”
With the team set to break for the rest of the offseason, Ryan felt that the Super Bowl LI loss was amply addressed and he expects when they reconvene for training camp in late July they’ll be cleansed of their 28-3 demons and ready to move forward.
He’s not expecting any Super Bowl hangover.
“We’re already back at it,” Ryan said. “When we started as a team in April, we got together before that as players down in Miami, it was time to move one. It was time to look forward.
“Anytime that we kind of dwell on that, is wasted time. We have to focus trying to become the best football team that this group can be.”
Ryan clearly feels the team was in a good place.
“I sense that from all of the guys,” Ryan said. “I think that everybody has that mindset.”
The Falcons will enter the season as favorites to win the NFC South. They’ll be trying to become the first team since the 1993 Buffalo Bills to return to the Super Bowl after losing the game.
“But this year’s group is different and this team is different,” Ryan said. “We have to find a way to become the best football team that we can. Find ways to get better and improve. That’s what we are trying to do.
“Our focus is what is front of us. We learned a lot from last year. We’ll take those learning lessons with us, but we have to find a way to make this group the best group that we can be.”
Hamdan has been impressed with Ryan.
“I was blown away with how intentional, really all of these guys,” Hamdan said. “They don’t waste time. If they are going to do something, they are going to do it the right way.
“As coaches we have a playbook and a lot of our answers come from the playbook. There are a lot of times that I think both Matts (— Ryan and Matt Schaub —) give the answers from a lot of experience.
“It’s been a unique experience for me piecing this offense together and learning this offense, but also getting the offense from their point of view as well.”
Hamdan sees the fire that Ryan has used to propel his career. In five of his nine seasons, Ryan has guided the Falcons to the playoffs.
“I think that the guy plays with a chip on his shoulder,” Hamdan said. “He works with a chip on his shoulder. That’s what has been really unique for me see him day-to-day. Seeing what he looks like in May and June. How he attacks everything that he does. It starts there.”
Hamdan believes that Ryan sets the tone for the rest of the team.
“From a player’s standpoint, if you just really have watched him over the past four or five years, there is certain element of toughness that you don’t just think about naturally maybe with the quarterback position or him in general,” Hamdan said. “But time-after-time, it shows up with him standing in the pocket, moving the pocket with walls of people in his face. I think it starts with toughness.”
“The second thing there is just his accuracy. We refer to it as strike-point-accuracy that allows him to give receivers the ball in position where they can advance it as well as running backs.”
Hamdan plans to aid Ryan on the finer points of his game, including the bootlegs and rollouts that are required in the offensive scheme.
“When you look at the offense as a whole, one of the strengths of it is that everything looks the same,” Hamdan said. “A lot of the (play) action passes, a lot of the keepers occur from the simple standpoint is that it looks like a run and all of sudden one guy is switching his route and Matt is getting outside and using that.
“It’s intricate. It’s extremely important in the run game as well. Again, we have the ability to keep them honest. To keep on extra guy out of run defense is critical. It’s a staple of this offense and we just have to continue to grow with it.”
Hamdan, echoing the sentiments of Sarkisian, sees just minor tweaks for Ryan and the scheme.
“Obviously, this is a tremendous system,” Hamdan said. “What they’ve done the last couple of years here really probably changed the league in a lot of ways with what they’ve done.
“But I think every year is new. You have different players every year. You have to be able to feature certain guys and play to their strengths, but again, if I were to give a percentage, I’m not really sure. I definitely think that the system in place is a very good system. Obviously Sark brings … a lot of years of calling plays (in the college ranks) and we’ll benefit from that.”
As for the minicamp, Ryan felt the team was still moving with a purpose.
“This time of the year is cleaning up the things that we’ve worked on in OTAs,” Ryan said. “There are always things that pop up during the seven practices that we had this year. Specific, detailed things.
“That’s what we (were) doing (during the minicamp), trying to find ways to get a little bit better before (the) break.”
If Ryan has his way, he’ll be at the controls at least for another 10 years.
“I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure it last as long as I can,” Ryan said.
Matt Winkeljohn contributed to this story