WESTFIELD – For the first time in 15 years, he was the new kid on the block.
There were undeniable similarities even though Matt Ryan wasn’t that wide-eyed rookie who joined the Atlanta Falcons in 2008 as the 3rd overall pick in the draft and the player who had to lead a franchise’s return to prominence.
He was the savvy, proven veteran quarterback entrusted to be the catalyst as the Indianapolis Colts hoped to put a wholly unsatisfactory 2021 behind it.
Rookie quarterback for the Falcons, who finished 4-12 in ’07 as Joey Harrington, Chris Redman and Byron Leftwich shared the snaps? Or Frank Reich’s fifth different starting QB in as many seasons?
Different, but the same.
“Just being in a new spot and adjusting to new things,’’ Ryan said Thursday as the Colts concluded training camp at Grand Park Sports Campus. “Whole new staff, entirely new players. So, there’s probably some similarities to it.
“From a personal standpoint, I think I’m much further along.’’
That’s only natural considering Ryan’s 14-year resume includes 222 regular-season starts, six playoff berths and one Super Bowl appearance.
The Falcons were quick to warm to their new QB. They finished 11-5 and earned a wild-card playoff berth as their rookie passed for 3,440 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Ryan faced a reboot to his career after Atlanta pursued Deshaun Watson and Chris Ballard lured him to Indy. It’s been five months of Ryan familiarizing himself with a new environment, a new offensive scheme, new coaches, new players, new everything.
Everything and everybody feeds off the quarterback. He’s the tip of the spear, at least on offense. He sets the tone – Ryan’s pace during camp was decidedly up-tempo – and makes certain everybody knows exactly what they’re doing.
He was asked at what point he had mastered Reich’s offense.
“I mean, it’s hard to put a date on any of that stuff,’’ Ryan said. “I feel like as we continued to go, I continue to get more comfortable. I still feel like I can be better in it, too, and still feel like there’s work to do.
“So, certainly feel a lot more comfortable just in terms of the terminology, in terms of the checks, in terms of our protections. The key is for it to become second nature where you’re not really thinking about it.’’
At some point, so much of what he was doing became second nature for everyone involved.
“Yeah, I think so,’’ Ryan said. “I think on a lot of parts of the offense we’re there, not only myself but a lot of the guys.
“We still got a week and a half or two to prep before we get into our first week game plan. We have to continue to push that.’’
Reich has more experience than he’d like in going into an offseason and a season with a new starting quarterback. Here’s where we remind everyone of the four who preceded Ryan: Andrew Luck in 2018, Jacoby Brissett in ’19, Philip Rivers in ’20 and Carson Wentz last season.
Reich has been impressed with how Ryan carried himself and pushed the offense at Grand Park Sports Campus.
“The speed that he operates, the practice tempo,’’ he said. “Listen, every guy is focused, every guy is all business, but Matt is just at another level. He’s always on . . . he’s out here to work . . . always thinking, always talking through things and ways to get us better, get us on the same page as an offense.
“So, really felt like we made a lot of strides. It came from a lot of players’ leadership, but he played a significant role in the leadership he provided in this training camp.’’
As Reich mentioned, leadership comes in many forms and from many different players. On offense it might be Jonathan Taylor or Michael Pittman Jr. or Ryan Kelly or Quenton Nelson or Nyheim Hines.
But it absolutely must come from the quarterback.
“It really does,’’ Reich said. “He’s got the ball in his hand, he’s calling the play in the huddle. Listen, these guys are motivated. Everybody is self-motivated, but also every one of those guys would say, ‘No, push me. Elevate. Somebody step in the huddle and raise the bar.’
“That’s what Matt has done. There are other players who have done that as well, but he certainly has come in here and his reputation as a leader and as a player, you could see that on full display during training camp.’’
While determining whether to pursue Ryan after trading Wentz to the Washington Commanders, Ballard and Reich did their due diligence. They considered what Ryan had done in his 14 seasons and whether he had more to offer.
And they did a deep dive on who he was as a person and a quarterback.
At every turn, Ryan’s leadership – his command of everything around him – was obvious.
“We did know that about him,’’ Reich said. “You don’t have to dig too deep to find that out. But when you do dig and you look in every crevice, you find the same thing and hear the same thing about the guy.
“It’s all true.’’
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