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Matt Ryan, Falcons see progress in newly assembled offensive line, wideouts
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws a pass during their NFL minicamp football practice Tuesday, June 11, 2019, in Flowery Branch, Ga. - photo by John Bazemore

Offensive improvements are being made at the Atlanta Falcons three-day mandatory minicamp within the friendly confines of Flowery Branch.

The offensive line, in particular, was the main unknown entering this week with four new additions to the group (two rookies and two free agent signees). Transitioning to new schemes and adapting to the coaching style of newly hired offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter makes these few days in June so paramount to the offseason. 

Once minicamp concludes today, the waiting game begins. The Falcons will not officially reconvene until July 22 for training camp, meaning the retention of reps now should keep the brain humming until then.

“These days are invaluable for them,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “I see their communication getting better moving forward.”

Offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom, the Falcons 14th overall pick in the 2019 Draft, and Ryan share a commonality as alumni of Boston College. Though the tie has made for quick conversation, the bond now is chained to the present and future moments with Atlanta. 

“To watch him move, to watch how comfortable he is in his pass sets where his hand placement is, those are all of the things that give you a chance to play well, and he does all those really things really well,” Ryan said of Lindstrom’s impressive start.

The front office made an emphatic statement during the 2019 Draft by signing two offensive linemen in the first round, even trading their second round pick to acquire tackle Kaleb McGary. They want to protect their franchise quarterback. That’s fair. 

But the pressure will be on the young guys to safeguard the 34-year-old former MVP, who’s had to align his preparation for training camp with his aging body.

“It hasn’t gotten easier as you get further into your career,” Ryan said of the conditioning and training process. “You’ve got to adapt and change how you do it. But I certainly probably feel better than I’ve ever felt because I’ve figured out what works best for me at this time in my life. 

“I feel like I’m in a really good spot in terms of training, eating, sleeping, all those things that help you recover as quickly as possible and allow you to train as hard as you can. I feel like I’m in a  really good place.”

Wideouts in competition

Julio Jones has frontlined the receiver depth chart since his rookie season in 2011. It’s safe to say that no one is realistically in competition with the six-time Pro Bowler, but a fellow Alabama alumnus has been “unbelievable” since he stepped on the field this offseason. 

Second-year Calvin Ridley carries an eagerness to learn, according to Ryan, and it’s that same character trait which usually separates the good from the great.

Unsurprisingly, Jones gravitates toward Ridley as both strive to be the best player they can be.

“Everyday he comes to work he works really hard and he puts in the effort,” Ryan said of Ridley. “It’s impressive to watch. He’s got one of the best mentors that you can possibly ask for in Julio, a guy that can talk to him after he’s gone through stuff and say, ‘That was really good. I liked your release.’ Or ‘That was pretty good, but if you try this and set him up this way, you might be able to create more separation.’ 

“I think their relationship and the way that those two communicate has really accelerated Calvin’s career.”

Fellow 2018 draftee Russell Gage has looked more confident as a receiver during minicamp due to Jones's absence from  organized team activities (OTAs). Head coach Dan Quinn called it the “unintended good consequences” that came with Jones’ lack of reps.

Though the team is stocked at the receiver role, Quinn is certain Gage will play more than one spot and be labeled as the team’s X-receiver — replacing Marvin Hall, now with the Chicago Bears

“He can now add into those roles as Julio’s backup, so he can play X and inside and he has the movement for a slot,” Quinn said. “Once you can learn more than one position, obviously you have more opportunities to play. Last year, we mainly had him as a backup but now he’s able to plug himself in at a couple of spots.”

Thoughts on Koetter

Koetter returned to Atlanta this offseason after three years in Tampa for his second offensive coordinator stint with the Falcons. Ryan remembers the three years (2012-2014) well and is looking forward to the change he’ll bring to the offense. 

“It’s better than going against him,” Ryan said. “He’s obviously tough to go against. I really enjoyed my first three years working with him here in Atlanta. I was excited when he was coming back here. It’s been great. This offseason has been really good. I’ve learned a lot.” 

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