Marcus Mariota and Matt Ryan are different people, different players with different skills players.
Falcons head coach Arthur Smith acknowledges that and has no intention of forcing one to be the other. He's moving on to a different man behind center and running his scheme. He knows Mariota well from their time together in Tennessee and understands, through recent conversations, how the quarterback has grown over two years they spent apart.
That will allow him to find ways to maximize his talents, using different parts of his playbook to bring out Mariota's best.
"Some people have a hard line with their system and guys that fit," Smith said Tuesday during the NFC coaches' breakfast here at the NFL owners meetings. "In my experience, and the way my mindset works, there are certain core principles we won't move away from, but you have to tailor your offense to the strength of your team. When you get players, like we did with Cordarrelle Patterson last season, we tried to find creative ways of using him.
"He's not the same player as Matt Ryan, so we'll try to play to Marcus' strengths."
While we all had a lot of fun with #MattyWheels, Mariota could lap Ryan in a race. While Mariota can connect on precise passes from the pocket, he doesn't have Ryan's ability to consistently thread needles.
Finding ways to help Mariota thrive will be key in this transition period, where Mariota could be a bridge to a longer-term answer at starting quarterback.
We take a look back over Matt Ryan's best snaps with the Falcons—in monochrome.
Smith has plenty of experience helping unique skill sets thrive after previous struggles, as he did with Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee. He did something similar with Patterson in Atlanta last year, and helped the offensive weapon have a breakout season.
"It's no different than what we did with CP," Smith said. "You play to your players strengths. That's what good coaching is."
It's also smart to not assume Mariota will step in and fill Ryan's exact leadership void. The longtime Falcons leader had complete command of the locker room with his poise and leadership style, which exuded positivity while demanding excellence, often with four-letter words.
"It must be authentic," Smith said. "Different guys step up every year. Guys often take steps and feel more comfortable in his role. But, certainly, Matt had a different affect based on the year he was there, as a young guy to when he was the old man in the room. No matter the age, if you have leadership skills and you can produce, people usually listen.
While the Falcons plan on adding to their quarterback room, Smith said Mariota will have a "great opportunity" to be the 2022 starting quarterback. Many have asked about Mariota being benched during Smith's season working with him as offensive coordinator, but Smith answers those queries with confidence that their partnership will work the second go-round.
"He has learned a lot from then," Smith said. "He was one of the few guys out there who has won a playoff game as a starter. He has grown as a football player. He has been through a lot of systems, too. We went through multiple systems together in Tennessee and we expect to get the best version of Marcus Mariota."
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