The buzz word in the offseason was "explosive."
General manager Thomas Dimitroff said it over and over. Head coach Mike Smith echoed the same sentiment.
The Atlanta Falcons wanted to become more explosive in 2011.
With Matt Ryan entering his fourth season at the helm of the Atlanta offense, most believe he's ready to take that next step in the quarterback ranks, going from really, really good to elite level. One way to do that is by executing that buzz word.
The football starts in Ryan's hands but almost always ends in the hands of another player's. Ryan is the quarterback and leader of the offense now and has shown in his time in the NFL that he has the poise and the talent to lead an offense scoring points that pounds opponents into submission.
He sees himself as a conductor. With the ball in his hands he can begin the process, but it takes all the other parts of the symphony to truly explode. In the offseason and now in training camp, Ryan's doing what he can to ensure the explosive plays can happen when they need to. Deep ball accuracy with his three top targets, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas, is one of his top priorities this year.
"I've got to be more accurate down the field on the deeper throws and put guys into position to make plays," Ryan said. "The only way to do that is to do it in practice — work on it and do it in practice and be successful in practice. For the most part, we've done a pretty good job of it we've done a pretty good job of it the first couple of days."
Capitalizing on the opportunities is also critical both in practice and in games, whether its executing a designed big play or reading a defense's ability to be susceptible to the big play.
"We just have to make plays when they're there," the quarterback said. "When we have opportunities to make explosive plays we have to make them. We can't miss. It's something that we're working on."
Ryan may be the mouthpiece for the offense, but going big doesn't rest solely on his shoulders. Adding pieces on offense is also part of the explosive offense. Few already-dangerous teams added a piece as potentially explosive as the Falcons did with the drafting of first-round wide receiver Julio Jones.
Through the first few days of training camp, Jones is turning the hands of everyone present, from the media to coaches to teammates. In the young receiver they see a piece that makes Atlanta's offense truly a puzzle for defenses, that final explosive piece perhaps.
"It's going to be a new dimension for us on that side of the ball," tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "I think it's going to catch teams by surprise and when they do figure it out it's going to be like what are they going to do about it because you've got him and Roddy and then myself down the middle and then Harry. It should be a lot of fun for us and then with Michael Turner in the backfield. It's a dimension that we needed and I think it's really going to help us out a lot."
The addition of Jones is key, but the Falcons also drafted Jacquizz Rodgers in the fifth round, a blazer out of the running back position. Ryan believes both players are key to what Atlanta wants to do on offense and he's taking as much time as he can to mentor them and help teach them the offense from his perspective.
"I think Julio's done a good job," Ryan said. "He's made some mistakes, but he's done some things really well. He needs to continue to work hard and work hard in the meeting. He'll do that and hopefully by the time the season rolls around he'll feel comfortable with his role in this offense. I think Jacquizz has done a great job. I've been impressed with him. His knowledge of protections has been really good and he needs to continue to work on that, especially if he's going to be a third-down back for us; that's going to be something that's important to him. I've been impressed with both of those guys. They really have done a great job."
The ability to find explosion didn't exclude the coaching staff either. As much as Smith was speaking about the need to become more explosive, he was challenging his coaching staff to look for opportunities to to find explosion within the framework of the existing roster. Of course they were going to go on to add Jones and Rodgers, two needed components, but from a scheme standpoint, Smith felt there was room for improvement.
"As a coaching staff, we have to evaluate what we do and how we put things together," Smith said. "Ultimately it's about players, but you also to have to give them the opportunity to use their God-given abilities. We've got to always be evaluating and that's something this offseason that we spent a whole lot of time doing as a coaching staff, how we can create more explosive plays within the system. Again, it's about improvising and adjusting as a coaching staff and that's something that we spent the majority of our time looking at, especially on the offensive side of the ball."
Through five days of camp the symphony appears to be gearing up. After years of talk from the media about the potency of the Falcons offense and an offseason of discussion from the coaching staff, Atlanta's offense appears finally ready to ... explode.