Arthur Smith is working tirelessly to implement an offensive scheme new to these Falcons. Quarterback Matt Ryan is trying like heck to absorb it. That's the offseason program's primary objective for all on the staff and roster, from early virtual meetings through a mandatory minicamp and this week's final OTAs.
The effort isn't just about memorizing verbiage, or even executing plays exactly as they're drawn on the page.
There's more to it than that. It's about finding great flow, great sync.
That's mandatory between play caller and signal caller. And it doesn't happen overnight.
There's something to be learned from every rep. That's why Ryan and Smith are in near constant communication, even after practice reps in the middle of structured and fast-paced periods.
These two talk. A lot.
Each exchange brings the two a little bit closer to a shared vision, a shared line of thought.
"It's the every-day relationship building of a play caller and a quarterback," Smith said last week. "That's my philosophy. There have been a lot of people doing it a lot of different ways, but I personally like he and I having dialogue. It's my job as a coach to push him. It's also my job to listen. And Matt wants to be coached. That's what I love about the guy. He's going into Year 14 and wants to be coached. Usually, the great players want to be coached."
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Ryan has been coached by quite a few. Smith will be Ryan's fifth offensive play caller in 14 seasons and, counting Dirk Koetter's two tours running the offense in Atlanta, his sixth scheme change.
Smith's system is highly touted and deservedly so, considering its production and overall success while implemented in Tennessee. That's one reason why he was a popular head-coach candidate before he landed in Atlanta.
The information isn't just disseminated from coach to player. It often goes both ways during an exchange of ideas. And it doesn't always have to be such serious business.
"I certainly don't have all the answers and Matt doesn't think he has all the answers," Smith said. "It's great dialogue. Sometimes I'll make a smart-ass comment to him sometimes, depending on how you want to push him. Sometimes we have an open dialogue depending on what he's talking about. It's fun. It's fun to work with him."
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Building a strong working relationship isn't instantaneous, with respect gained through actions, authenticity and experience.
"There's relationship building and then when the two of you get into games you get a true feel," Smith said. "A lot of people say they're one way, and then I've been around coaches who lose their mind on game day or a player who can't take coaching on game day. You hope that, as you get to the season, that trust is developed. That, with what I say, I'll actually come through with it. It has been fun so far. But, yes, it will take some time."
It will continue to grow and evolve the longer Ryan and Smith work together, with an ever-expanding knowledge base allowing the offense to level up and then refine subtle details.
Smith has thoroughly enjoyed the process of working a future Hall-of-Famer into his scheme. Ryan's track record brings instant street cred and commands respect with how he goes about his business. That's why the relationship between play-caller and quarterback is off to a solid start.
"It's been a great experience so far," Smith said. "Obviously, I had a lot of respect for Matt Ryan – I never had worked with him but obviously what he's accomplished and sustained at a high level for a long time – and so, like every player, they're constantly trying to earn their job and understand and improve. Matt is made up of the right stuff.
"That relationship as a play-caller and quarterback, that's really important to me. No different than it was – I don't compare him to Ryan Tannehill – but that relationship with Ryan was really important. So, the relationship with Matt is super important for me. If you're going to be the play-caller and quarterback, you have to be on the same – that's just my philosophical approach – got to be on the same page."