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Training camp preview: Matt Ryan must be stabilizing force in new era

Steady-as-they-come franchise quarterback needs captain Arthur Smith's ship well getting offense up to speed

QB Matt Ryan
QB Matt Ryan

The Falcons have had the stability under center most NFL franchises can only dream about. They hit huge drafting franchise quarterback Matt Ryan way back in 2008, plugged him right into the starting lineup left him there without second thought.

Yeah. He has been that good for that long.

Ryan's stats have consistently gone off the charts. His win totals have been typically high, with a 113-92 record as a starter and six playoff appearances including a Super Bowl berth. Sailing, however, hasn't always been smooth.

The Falcons have fallen on harder times and Ryan's getting up there in age, leading many to wonder whether the Falcons should pick a quarterback of the future heading into this year's NFL Draft.

That didn't happen. Passers went 1, 2, 3 and then the Falcons used the fourth pick on dynamic tight end Kyle Pitts. They're ready to roll with Ryan again in 2021 and likely beyond considering his contract status, recent restructure and the simple fact that he keeps producing.


A Ryan-Arthur Smith partnership could be particularly fruitful, considering the new head coach's respected and creative offensive scheme. It's also well balanced, a feature that has allowed Ryan to thrive in years past. He can put a team on his back and tally yards and points, but that doesn't always pile victories high.

Last season makes that case and point. Ryan led the league in completed passes (407) and attempts (626) during a 4-12 season. He has exceeded 600 attempts the last three years, and the Falcons have finished below .500 each time. That shouldn't suggest causation. It's brought up here to suggest sole reliance on Ryan isn't a recipe for victory. Offensive balance and defensive improvement must help the overall product.

Ryan can, however, captain a well-made ship. He'll helm Smith's first season, likely the second and maybe beyond, considering the Falcons don't even have a developmental prospect as his backup. A.J. McCarron's in that role with Felipe Franks behind him, though the 53-man roster might not accommodate a third quarterback.

Ryan's the one constant around here, through coach and roster turnover. He has been through several scheme installations in his career. Coordinators have essentially been a revolving door with a new one coming again in 2021. Ryan learning Smith’s scheme and executing it well will be key for the entire team as it tries for better. He has to be well ahead of the curve to maximize this training camp time.

He'll be the offensive tone setter, someone to apply professionalism and calm in stressful situations. Getting some time to work would help him out. He has been sacked 40-plus times in each season of this three-year lull, an occurrence that only happened once in 11 years before that. Getting this line in order, especially with Matt Hennessy likely taking over at center, will be key in that effort.

This camp is also important preparing for life after Julio Jones, who was traded to Tennessee last month. Ryan still has familiar, reliable options in Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage. He has work to do enriching the chemistry built with Pitts during the offseason program.

In general, Ryan must be a rock for a team still in some transition and inspire confidence in those around him. If he's as good as ever, gets better from those around him and rekindles his fourth-quarter magic, this Falcons team may surprise some folks.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Drake London #5 during team practice at Atlanta Falcons Headquarters in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

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