FLOWERY BRANCH — Now in his third month working with new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, quarterback Matt Ryan believes the Atlanta Falcons have a chance to be special this year.
Ryan is getting a good feel for how Shanahan wants to attack even though several parts of the offense are still unsettled.
“Especially when you have a new set of eyes coming in with (quarterbacks coach) Matt LeFleur and Kyle Shanahan, that’s one of the things I talked about right away,” Ryan said Tuesday.
“What do you see from an outsider’s point of view that I can do better? We’ve addressed it and tried to improve. We’re getting there.”
After going 10-22 during the past two seasons under coach Mike Smith, Ryan sees no reason why the Falcons can’t build a foundation strong enough to return to the playoffs after a two-year absence.
He’s excited about the possibilities with Shanahan calling plays and with new head coach Dan Quinn raising the energy level on the practice field and in the meeting rooms.
“There’s absolutely no reason we can’t get it done,” Ryan said Tuesday. “We feel like that in the locker room. Get better every day. Focus on daily improvement and then go cut it loose when the season rolls around.”
Star receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White are back, but the Falcons essentially have a new offensive line that will be deployed as a zone blocking scheme. A trio of running backs — Devonta Freeman, Tevin Campbell and Antone Smith — will have plenty of chances to make plays in the passing game.
The first day of a mandatory three-day minicamp showed some growing pains. Left tackle Jake Matthews and right guard Jon Asamoah are the only full-time returning starters on the line.
Ryan Schraeder is working at right tackle following the release Monday of seven-year veteran Sam Baker. Joe Hawley and James Stone are battling for the center job. Chris Chester, signed earlier this month as a free agent, is the leading candidate to win the left guard job.
When Ryan and Shanahan first met, Shanahan gave him “tons of cutups” of film from the coordinator’s tenure in Houston, Washington and Cleveland. Ryan spent many hours watching the playbook at work to get a feel for his new responsibilities.
“Some of the stuff I’ve had to throw to the wayside, some of the zone read stuff,” Ryan said, referring to the success quarterback Robert Griffin III had as Redskins quarterback in 2012.
“The one thing you do see from this scheme is that they’ve had success everywhere they’ve gone in running the football. We’re going to be very specific in how we run the football.”
It’s a similar attack to what his father, Mike Shanahan, used as head coach in Denver and Washington and not too different from what the Falcons did from 2004-06 under coordinator Greg Knapp and line coach Alex Gibbs.
“We isolate an outside zone,” Kyle Shanahan said. “We do it about 80 percent of the time and we do it over and over and over again. The O-line gets good at it. It creates some space. When you have a back that runs hard and hits the right holes and can break tackles, they’re usually successful. When you’ve been together long enough, you can get that space created.”
In this offense, Ryan will move out of the pocket more and throw on the run. Shanahan already sees that it complements Ryan well.
“I’ve watched him throughout his career, and he’s done it before,” Shanahan said. “I don’t think he’s done it as much the last couple of years, but he’s still done it. He did a lot early in his career.”
Notes: Quinn said White didn’t practice because of an unspecified injury that “we don’t want to flare up.” … Jon Asamoah (ankle) was held out, too. … Matthews (foot), Hawley (knee), safety William Moore (shoulder), linebacker Brooks Reed (groin) and rookie cornerback Jalen Collins (foot) participated, but still aren’t full speed.