Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 5/29/12
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons wide receivers are used to playing catch with their quarterback, but this offseason they will be playing catch up. After his team's season came to a disappointing conclusion on Jan. 8 with a 24-2 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan took only a few weeks off before beginning his offseason training regimen. In seasons past, Ryan has worked on different elements of his game, such as his footwork, which he did in part by studying some of the league's elite quarterbacks on videotape. This year, Ryan has hit the gym in an attempt to get stronger. "I mean, he throws it a little bit harder than he did last year," Falcons wide receiver Roddy White said on the first day of offseason team activities. "He's done a lot in the offseason, he's been working out since February, so really not a break for him. He's a little bit ahead of everybody else and that's a good thing any time your star quarterback's ahead of the rest of the group and we're going to come out here and continue to get better and get where he is at this time." While Ryan possesses all of the tools to be a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, he is by no means a physical specimen and his greatest attribute might reside between his ears. It was often noted last season that while offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, now Jacksonville's head coach, called the plays, the Falcons offense seemed to run better out of its no-huddle scheme with Ryan calling the plays at the line. This spring, Ryan's mental approach has focused on the need for brawn to go with his brains -- much as the team's has in beefing up its offensive line. During the first three games last season, Ryan was sacked 13 times and took such a beating that he looked as if he would not make it through to the end of the season. Unlike some quarterbacks, the 6-foot-4, 217-pound Ryan has a lanky build that gives him more of the look physically of a shooting guard in basketball, especially without pads on. After those three games, head coach Mike Smith altered the scheme -- which had tried to emphasize the vertical passing game but his offensive line proved to him it could not protect Ryan long enough for deep routes to get open -- and made a few personnel changes on the offensive line. Now, under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, the Falcons again plan on utilizing the vertical passing game and Smith said Ryan is getting stronger both to be able to withstand big hits but also to strengthen his arm. "I think as you move forward in your career, you've got to find ways to improve and get better and be very critical in a good way when you look at tape and when you look at what you've done early on in your career," Ryan said. "I think I made some changes. I think there are some things that will help. I feel really good. My body feels really good. I feel like I've trained really well." Ryan did not go into the specifics of what his routine is, but he said he spent the maximum amount of time allowable to him under the league's new collective bargaining agreement -- he hinted in a humorous way that he would have done more if it were possible. "I've spent all the time you're allowed to spend here, I've been here, so as we collectively bargained," he said to laughter. "No, but I've made an investment this offseason probably more so than I have in the past and I feel like in order to get to a place that you haven't been, you've got to do something you haven't done and I'm trying to improve and get better in all ways -- in the film room, in the weight room, out here on the practice field." That place that Ryan and the Falcons have not been despite three postseason appearances in four seasons is the Super Bowl. Heck, the Falcons haven't even won a playoff game in that span, with Ryan posting an 0-3 postseason mark. Ryan seems to have used the way the Falcons went down to the Giants in January as motivation. "It takes some time," Ryan said of getting over the loss. "They sting because you put in so much work from whenever you start training in February, all the way through into training camp and through the season and all those things and you fall short of where you want to be, it's frustrating and disappointing. But part of being a professional, especially in the NFL -- it's so competitive, it's so even -- part of being good at what you do is being able to put failure behind you and move forward. So it takes a couple of weeks, but as soon as I get back into training, my mindset is done with the old and it's on to how we can improve, how we can be better." One big way Ryan and the Falcons can improve is by being able to complete the deep ball. At times last season, White, who is not exactly the sort to hold his tongue, lamented the Falcons' inability to connect on those plays. While White did not mention Ryan by name last season, the perception might have been that he was not 100 percent confident in his quarterback's ability to make some of those throws. On Tuesday, White threw bouquets at his quarterback's will to win while at the same time expressing that desire that 2012 will be the year when the Falcons realize a deep-strike ability -- he predicted Pro-Bowl seasons for both himself and receiver Julio Jones. White was asked what it means that Ryan began his offseason workouts so early. "It says, you know, we want to get out there and win," White said, "it speaks volumes about him and the works he wants to put in. Obviously, we all have weaknesses and we all need to work on them. He felt he needed to push the ball more down the field, so that's what he's working on. We got to complete them. I think we finished last year with 108 or 109 explosive plays and we missed like 15 of them, easy ones, too, so we're going to go down there and correct things like that and then we start hitting them and we start scoring more points." If that's the case, the Falcons and Ryan will be well positioned to break free of their playoff woes.
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