Matt Ryan is getting used to a new voice inside his head. Or, more accurately, inside his helmet.
Falcons head coach Arthur Smith will be calling plays and relaying them to his quarterback from a headset to a speaker in Ryan's helmet, communication that's as important as anything exchanged between the two.
They got a chance to work on that aspect of the game Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, when the Falcons practiced in front of an estimated 27,000 fans. It was an important rehearsal. Ryan has to hear the play call clearly and must get used to Smith's tone, cadence and clarity with noise in the background. While it seems like a somewhat trivial part of the game-day experience, it's vital to executing the game plan.
"I'm very selfish when it comes to this. I need it my way," Ryan said with a smile. "I'm constantly talking to him about those things. You just have to get comfortable. It takes time. It's one thing to do it on the practice field, in a very sterile environment where things aren't too crazy, and another to do it in New Orleans or Tampa or Charlotte when it really gets going. You have to know what he's saying without hearing it, if that makes sense. You just have to have a feel for it, which is why I emphasize wanting my helmet [communicator] on as much as possible."
That's important to relay the play calls right. It's also important to choose the right one, which Smith has expertly done since becoming Tennessee's offensive coordinator in 2019. His system and play calling are well respected across the league, but the new Falcons head coach doesn't just hand down offensive decisions. His ears are open, seeking input from quarterbacks charged with executing the play.
While Smith still makes the final call, Ryan has a voice in which plays he likes to run.
"Arthur sits in the bulk of our quarterback meetings," Ryan said. "He's there a lot, so he's constantly asking me – he wants to get a feel for me and Feleipe [Franks] and A.J. [McCarron] and how we think and what we like in certain situations. He wants to know how we see things. He has expressed that it's important for him to know how we feel about things and what we're comfortable with.
"He pushes certain things on you, stuff that he likes, but he's also receptive to suggestions. I'm open, too. I like being pushed to find new ways of doing things better and [to] learn new things. I can always find a way to be better than I've been. I'm excited about that part of this process."
Ryan and Smith are in the process of developing a solid working relationship. That began when Smith got hired and picked up serious steam when the new offensive system got installed during the offseason program. It progresses every day, and will continue throughout the summer and fall. There are always things to refine while striving to maximize offensive efficiency.
"It's no different than a personal relationship you have in your life. Everyone develops at a different rate," Ryan said. "You try and do all of the things you can do during the offseason and the preseason to get you as far along and get to know someone as well as you can, but there's nothing that can replicate playing a game and going through one together. I think there will be a lot of growth throughout the season, and I look forward to that. I think we're pretty far along in comparison to some of my past experiences, and a lot of that has to do with some familiarity on my end with some of the system."
It's a new system with some concepts Ryan has used in his past. That makes things easier to learn, develop and execute.
"Arthur Smith has coached with a lot of people I have played for during my career," Ryan said. "You see a little bit of Mike Malarkey in there. You see a little bit of Matt LaFleur and a little bit of Terry Robiskie, guys who I spent a long time with. Then there are things that are unique, with his own flavor. It's fun to be a part of it. There are a lot of things I can recall from different parts of my career that I feel very comfortable with and there are a lot of parts where, as I dive deeper into it, I need more reps. I need to get comfortable with those things, and that's what training camp is for."
Training camp is obviously intense, with focus on football day and night here in Flowery Branch. That accelerates the learning curve between coach and quarterback, which has developed well to this point.
"I'm very pleased with where we're at," Smith said. "He's very honest. I'm very honest. That part of it is going very well."