Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) looks down field during training camp at the Falcons Training Complex in the first padded practice on Sunday. (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)
FLOWERY BRANCH — Before the first day of Atlanta Falcons training camp ended, the big news broke.
The Falcons broke out the wallet and extended quarterback Matt Ryan for five more seasons for $103 million and that amount of money catches every ray of attention even in the spotlight of the NFL. But training camp begins the process of preparing for the season and it’s Ryan’s play in those moments that earned him the glitzy check.
But practice is boring when there are big contracts to discuss. Go back to that first practice. Here is Ryan, now even richer than before, entrenched as the team and franchise leader and the quarterback entering his sixth season showed why.
“I thought we threw the ball well today. I really did,” Smith said in comments lost to dollar signs. “I thought we were very efficient and throwing the football, and, of course, when you’re not in pads you’re going to emphasize the pass game a little bit more.”
With a quarterback like Ryan, any time is a good time to emphasize the pass.
He showed up sharp on the first day, a reason his paycheck just grew and a tribute to his growth as a quarterback. A first round pick and a starter from his first season, Ryan always showed up prepared and over his career the intensity of his preparation only increased.
The results bear witness.
In his first five seasons Ryan’s increased his touchdowns and total yards. His completion percentage shot up nearly 12 points since his rookie season.
“As a quarterback it’s kind of different from a lot of other positions,” Ryan said. “That first year, you are just kind of keeping your head above water and doing the best you can.”
In your second year, you think you know what you are doing and then you get knocked around a little bit and find out you don’t really know what you are doing quite yet. I think some of those lumps I took in my second year really helped me into my third year.”
Such is Ryan’s growth. But it wasn’t just in the games, experiencing the defenses and the speed young players rave about in the NFL. Ryan learned to keep his mind fresh while studying, sharp and cunning.
“I’ve always been wired the way that you need to do everything and that wears you out, it does,” Ryan said. “It wears you out as you get later into the season. I think as I’ve gotten older and as I’ve matured I’ve found out what works and what doesn’t.”
Ryan watches film smarter, just like he reads a blitz better. And, he sees those blitzes better because of the time with the film.
“It’s more efficient,” Ryan said of his film study. “I think being more efficient, I think, has really helped me mentally later in the year and physically to feel better than I ever have.”
The growth continues. The money is byproduct even if it’s more fun to discuss.
“I felt like, I really do, I felt like each year has helped me get better and better,” Ryan said. “Year 4 I was better than I was three and Year 5 I was much better than I was four. Hopefully that transition continues.”