Matt Ryan didn’t wait for this week’s start of the Atlanta Falcons offseason program to jump into preparations for 2016.
Ryan paid for 27 teammates to attend a passing camp he organized near Miami the last week of March. The quarterback invested his time and money into finding solutions for the turnovers and inconsistency which marked the Falcons’ disappointing 8-8 finish after a 5-0 start last season.
Ryan said the passing camp will help for a smooth start to 2016 with such players as tight end Jacob Tamme, who was in his first year with the team last season, and receiver Justin Hardy, who was a rookie.
“There were a lot of different things we had to try to sort through together to get on the same page,” Ryan said Tuesday, the second day of the team’s offseason program.
“I think when we were down in Miami and had an opportunity to get out on the field and work together, I could already tell we were a lot further along than we were really at certain points early in the season and midway through the season. … Familiarity with each other, familiarity with the system, I think we’re way ahead of where we were last year.”
All-Pro receiver Julio Jones, who was included when Ryan used his Instagram and Twitter accounts to post a photo after one of the workouts at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, said the camp was good “to get a little timing down.”
Former Cincinnati receiver Mohamed Sanu, who signed with the Falcons on a five-year, $32.5 million deal, also attended the camp. Sanu and Hardy are expected to help replace veteran receiver Roddy White, who was released after the season.
“He’s not a guy who feels like he knows everything,” said Jones of Sanu. “He’s willing to learn and listen because it’s a new scheme he’s coming into. He’s going to be great for us.”
With White gone, Jones now is the veteran of the receivers. But Jones said White, who holds most of the team’s career receiving records, continues to be an influence.
“The voice is always going to be there because I learned a lot from him,” Jones said. “He passed along some great traits to me so now I can teach other guys, like I was talking about with Sanu. That was the Roddy in me, to coach the other guys and not be selfish.”
Jones and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown shared the NFL lead with 136 catches and Jones led the league with 1,871 yards receiving. Falcons running back Devonta Freeman had impressive dual-threat production in his breakout year. Even so, the Falcons struggled with 30 turnovers and Ryan’s 21 TD passes were his low mark since his 2008 rookie season.
Ryan said those shortcomings are reasons the passing camp and the offseason workouts are important.
“Our offensive execution was not where it needed to be,” Ryan said. “I think that’s where we’ve got to find a way to get better. That starts now.”