Tuesday, July 31, 2018
ATLANTA — As the Atlanta Falcons went through bag drills on Day 3 of training camp Sunday, it was no surprise to see the guy in the black No. 2 jersey leading the way.
It’s typical for Matt Ryan to be up front, although he’d admit to not having the swiftest feet in the bunch. Ryan knows he can’t afford to stumble or else it might disrupt the rhythm of the entire drill.
Such is symbolic of the way Ryan carries himself on a daily basis as it relates to the team’s big picture. The 33-year-old, 2016 MVP knows others follow his lead. So as the Falcons reported to camp last week, when veterans could have trickled in anytime between the team’s 1 p.m. to 3 p.m check-in window, Ryan was there by 11 a.m., throwing and running with backup Matt Schaub.
“His ability day in and day out — meeting room, weight room, on the field, in the cafeteria — it doesn’t matter, he’s a leader,” Schaub said of Ryan. “Whether it’s verbally or demonstrating how to go about your business, how to be a pro — especially this time a year, with a lot of young guys [who] need to see it and how it should be done — he leads.”
Any of the rookies who watched Ryan following Monday morning’s scrimmage probably noticed how he dumped his pads on a side field as practice concluded and then went through another 10 minutes of sprints alongside Schaub. It was yet another illustration of Ryan’s willingness to lead by example.
There are times, however, when the message comes in a much more demonstrative form. Ryan isn’t afraid to raise his voice or use foul language to get his point across, and the team respects him for it.
“Here’s what I love about him: You wouldn’t know because outside, nice image, clean, but he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” coach Dan Quinn said of Ryan. “Out here, his presence and his command are really on point. You feel how important the practice is, the performance is for him. If it doesn’t go right, he’s going to rip your ass.”
Ryan naturally plays a position of leadership, but not every quarterback around the NFL, or even in the division, is considered a true leader. The microscope might be on Ryan a tad more going into the 2018 season since he’s become the league’s highest-paid player and has yet to win a Super Bowl. But Ryan and the Falcons are striving for the latter, with this season’s Super Bowl in their home Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Ryan hopes to lead the Falcons to their first-ever title and erase the bad memories from the Super Bowl LI implosion against New England.
Outside perception won’t change his approach.
“For me, it’s about showing up and doing your job the right way every day; setting an example for the younger guys, for the veteran guys, of how it’s supposed to be done,” Ryan said. “I take pride in that. But I also believe that’s the way to play your best and perform your best. So that’s why I do it.”
When Ryan entered the league in 2008 as the third overall pick out of Boston College, his teammates raved about how he immediately took command of the huddle. Despite such maturity, Ryan admitted then-Falcons coach Mike Smith had to coax him to raise his voice.
That’s not an issue now.
“But Matt is not a guy who just jumps down people’s throat and then leaves them out to dry,” free safety Ricardo Allen said. “He’ll cuss you out and jump down your throat to get your job right, and then he’ll come back like, ‘Do you understand?’
“He knows how to change his personality with people, too. He doesn’t jump down everyone’s throat, because everyone doesn’t take to it that way. But some people, you have to get on them early to let them know how important details are. He’s crisp in everything [he] does.”
Sometimes leadership means steering clear of the unnecessary “rah-rah” jargon. A handful of teammates applauded how Ryan handled recent matters when star receiver Julio Jones, caught in a contract dispute, was away from the team during offseason workouts. Ryan didn’t flinch.
“It was just like everybody was here,” wide receiver Mohamed Sanu said of Ryan’s demeanor. “For Matt and us, it was whatever we needed to do to keep everything rolling.”
Ryan did take the initiative after minicamp to fly a bunch of his offensive teammates out to Southern California for a week of workouts that included Jones. He did the same when a Falcons group met in South Florida a couple summers ago.
“That’s so cool that he pays for his guys to come out and train with him,” Sanu said. “That’s his training, but also [his] time to spend with his family. He takes a week out of his time to come train with us to get ahead and get a kickstart on what we want to do. It’s pretty cool. It’s definitely fun to be his teammate.”
Said Quinn, “It shows he cares about them, too. He’s been blessed, so he wants to make sure, ‘Hey, this is going to be no sweat on you. Let’s come do it together. This is my treat. I know the work that you put in. And honor that hustle, too.
“I told the team the other night, ‘When your walk matches your talk, you’ve really got influence, because when they don’t [match], it could be a little confusing. And so, Matt Ryan’s walk matches his talk. He holds himself to it. He doesn’t cut corners.”