Just a few days into the Falcons’ training camp, Matt Ryan said the pulse of the team is at a steady pace. The energy levels are high, and the players and coaches are excited to be back on the field and willing to do what needs to be done to see the 2020 season played. But in his first media availability of training camp, much more could be gleaned about the emerging pieces of the Falcons’ offense through his eyes and in his own words than anything else.
Ryan used the word “continuity” when describing the Falcons’ 2020 offense, saying there is a lot of it to go around this year at almost every spot.
“We have a bunch of starters back at our skill positions but also on the offensive line and a lot of familiarity with Dirk (Koetter) in his second year back as (offensive coordinator),” Ryan said. “I think all of those things help when you’re in this type of environment. This has been a unique offseason for sure, but knowing each other really well and having a feel for each other helps during these situations.”
But there are a few pieces who don’t really fit into that “continuity” that Ryan discussed right off the bat, new pieces who will be important figures this season. There are also those, like Koetter, who will have their feet under them more in 2020 than in the previous years. And others, like Calvin Ridley, whose role will expand and evolve.
With this in mind, let’s break down the group of these emerging pieces of the Falcons’ offense, doing so through the eyes of one of the players who work closest with them: Ryan.
Upon reading the headline of this article, you likely weren’t expecting Koetter’s name on this breakdown, but with Koetter in his second year (of his second stint) with the Falcons, the words “emerging” and “evolving” fall just as much on him as they do any players he’s working with.
Going back to the pulse of the team that Ryan spoke on at the beginning of his remote news conference, he said Koetter has his hand on that pulse maybe more so now than he did last year, which would make sense as he continues to settle into the role after joining the Falcons staff last year after four seasons with Tampa Bay.
“Him being in this scheme in Year 2 and really understanding the differences in terms of our run game, in terms of how it matches up to what we do in protections and play-action pass, I think that part of it excites me the most for this coming year of us being very much on the same page and him having a really good pulse on the guys that we have in the scheme that we have set up,” Ryan said.
But before he said anything about play-action passes and schemes, Ryan said he most enjoys working with Koetter because it’s Koetter, a coach who often cuts right to the chase.
“There is zero BS with him,” Ryan said. “There’s not a lot of that going on.”
He went on to say players always know exactly where they stand with Koetter and that the Ryan-Koetter communication has evolved into an easy working relationship. For one, they are both clear with each other in regard to what they want as individuals and what they expect from the whole offense. That clarity has only improved in Koetter’s second year with the Falcons.
“That part of it to me is the best part of working with him because I know exactly what I am getting from him day in and day out,” Ryan said.
While winning didn’t come easily for the Falcons last year, especially early on, the offense did end up finishing in the top five in the league in total yards and passing yards. Now with an even clearer working relationship, perhaps that success through the air can continue for Koetter and Ryan as the running game can improve.
ATL - WR
Speaking of that success through the air, Ridley popped up on the monitor for his media availability Tuesday with a certain sparkle in his eye and pep in his step. He couldn’t quite stand still, almost itching for greatness in a moment with the media that was only 15 minutes long. During that 15-minute window, Ridley set the expectation for himself: He is going to be “elite” in 2020. As the guaranteed No. 2 receiver behind Julio Jones, Ridley can feel and see his role as a piece in the offense evolving. He hopes to reach new heights in the coming season. You could see it irked him to have been injured during a short portion of the season last year, saying he almost had no doubt he would have surpassed 1,000 receiving yards if he would have stayed at 100 percent. He craves that, hungers for it even, in 2020.
Ryan said he absolutely sees that hunger from Ridley even just a few days into training camp, even without suiting up with pads on, even without anything other than Ridley walking around.
“I think there’s some messaging about having this as a breakout year (for Ridley), and I hope it is,” Ryan said. “I hope he’s improved from what he’s been even the last two years, but he’s been really good the last two years and extremely productive for us, so I’m fired up that he’s hungry and ready to go.”
But what does Ryan think that next step in Ridley’s evolution will look like? Well, he said it’s a little difficult to truly judge because sometimes straight numbers can be skewed when, well, Jones is your No. 1 receiver. But Ryan is definitely among those who believe the pros of that situation greatly outweigh the cons.
There are only so many plays in a game, Ryan said, but the people who know Ridley, who guard him in man-to-man coverage, know he’s “exceptional.” And Ryan said time in the league has enhanced that exceptionalism in Ridley. More so than ever before, Ridley knows his role, and he’s clearly defined it in his head. He knows the system, the scheme, the conversions on routes against specific coverages. Listing all of this, Ryan said a lot of young players will take significant time to figure out their roles, to clearly define them for themselves and to really become comfortable with the schemes in front of them. There’s a lot of attention to detail that has to go into that process early on.
“I think you see the benefit of that,” Ryan said. “He seems very freed up when he’s on the field and has a really good understanding of the scheme and the conversions of our routes versus certain coverages. Just little stuff like that that I’ve seen early through camp has been really impressive.”
But that’s not all Ryan sees in Ridley.
“He’s hungry and determined, and he wants to be a great player, and that is sometimes just as important as having the skill set,” Ryan said. “The want-to and the desire is huge, and I’ve certainly seen that from him really during this entire offseason that we’ve been able to spend some time together, but certainly during the first couple of days that we’ve been back here at Flowery Branch.”
ATL - RB
Dan Quinn said it in his news conference to open training camp. Ryan echoed it Thursday: How quickly Gurley fits into the Falcons’ organization and how the Falcons feel they can use him are things they’re not worried about.
Ryan said the two new key pieces of the Falcons’ offense who were picked up during the offseason, Gurley and Hayden Hurst, have quickly made their presence known and have fallen into their roles on the offense rather quickly.
“There’s no question about that,” Ryan said. “I know I spoke about Todd this offseason of how impressed I was with his ability to kind of pick up things quickly.”
On Monday, Gurley spoke to this process, saying he feels confident in the homework he did prior to the start of training camp. Now it’s time to see that homework turn into action.
“I think today was just a stepping stone for what leads into the season,” Gurley said. “A lot of good things, definitely. For me, just being able to be out there, learn my new teammates’ names, the coaches and also get adjusted to the playbook.”
From Ryan’s perspective, Gurley is well on his way to already being adjusted.
ATL - TE
When asked what his first impression was of his new tight end, Ryan said simply what jumped out at him right away was how genuinely excited Hurst was to be with the Falcons. Ryan said you can tell by the way Hurst works day in and day out just how much he wants to be with the Falcons.
More than just a general jovial attitude about being back out on the field with a new team, Ryan said Hurst’s athleticism is exciting to see.
“He’s extremely fast, has very good change of direction, he’s big and strong,” Ryan said. “He’s everything you would want in a tight end. I think he’s going to be a nice piece of the puzzle for us.”
Ryan went on to say Hurst is a different type of player from some other tight ends he has played with and has a different skill set from Austin Hooper or Tony Gonzalez.
“He’s unique in that way,” Ryan said. “I’m excited to kind of utilize some of the things that he does and add them into our scheme.”
Despite what some may think of DK, I am tentatively excited to see what this offense can do this year. They have all world potential, just need the injury Gods to bless us and keep this team healthy.