CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Atlanta’s quest for Super Bowl redemption has started at a fitting locale.
It was 30 years ago when the University of Miami football team rebounded by finishing the 1987 season No. 1after itsquanderedchances to win national championships with bowl-game losses the previous two seasons. Images of star Hurricanes from that era are featured on banners lining the school’s practice fields, where a flock of Falcons are conducting workouts organized by quarterback Matt Ryan.
Atlanta should hope such good karma rubs off.
The Falcons went through their own heartbreak in early February when they squanderedthe biggest lead in Super Bowl history (25 points) en route to a 34-28 overtime loss to the Patriots. The first step toward moving past that collapse came Tuesday, when 22 players participated in an hour-long passing and conditioning session.
By week’s end, roughly 40 Falcons will have arrived not only for on-field work heading into the official start of Atlanta’s offseasonprogram Monday, but to continue building the locker-room “Brotherhood” that sprouted during the 2016 season.
Matt Ryan leads a workout session in Coral Gables, Fla. (Photo by Alex Marvez)
Such participation and camaraderie was Ryan’s ultimate goal when he sponsoredhis first get-together last year in South Florida.
Ryan discussed the 2017 version of “Camp Brotherhood” and what makes him optimistic the Falcons can rebound from Super Bowl 51 failure during an exclusive Sporting News interview.
Q: How different is this year’s camp?
Ryan: I feel like everybody is a little more comfortable now. Obviously having done it last year the guys who were here know what to expect. It’s just a good chance to knock off some of the rust before we get started on the field, spend some time together and catch up with each other and see what everybody has been doing the past couple weeks and months since we finished up.
Q: I saw a tighter group on the field than the one at last year’s camp. Is that fair to say?
Ryan: We're a lot closer for sure. The time we put in together last year has made us closer. What we went through during the season, that bond makes everybody tighter. And we’ve got a lot of the same guys back. That's the exciting part. We've got a lot of continuity from what we had last year. We're more talkative on the field. We’re further along in terms of how we communicate with one another, where we’re at on offense and those types of things.
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Q: NFL rules prohibit you from talking Xs and Os with new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian until the offseason program begins, but how different do you anticipate the offense will be from the one run by Kyle Shanahan?
Ryan: I think things will stay really, really similar to what we've done the last couple of years. He’s one new guy coming in, but we have a lot of guys coming back. I think he’s going to adjust to the guys that are in the system that we’ve been running, a system that everyone is so familiar with and had a lot of success with.
Q: What are some specific areas where this offense can get better?
Ryan: One thing we did a great job of last year was creating explosive plays and limiting turnovers. That will hopefully be a staple of who we are as an offense moving forward. There are some specific things we can do better. We could have been better in some third-down situation and tight red-zone situations. We already started on that today and got a lot of red-area work. That was good.
Q: How did your personal routine change with your offseason starting later because of Atlanta’s Super Bowl run?
Ryan: It’s one of those things where we played a little longer so it took us a little more time (to recover). You probably start a little later than you would have in other years. But we also worked those six weeks that we played longer.
I don’t think I was quite as rusty when I came back to it. My body is starting to feel really good and I think all the guys are starting to feel pretty good. I was impressed by what I saw today.
Q: How cathartic is a camp like this moving ahead to 2017?
Ryan: Any time you get started on your next goal … The (Super Bowl) sting is still going to be there. That’s fine. You can use that as motivation. I think we will. But I think today and this week is a real start for us toward next season. That’s what it’s all about. Get rid of that last game, the last few minutes of that last game, and start working on this season.
Q: How many times did you end up re-watching Super Bowl 51?
Ryan: I think three times. (Laughs)That was enough. It was probably one or two (times) too many. We did some really good things in that game. We were very well prepared. Our process was really good. We came out and competed well.
I thought the players played hard. I’m proud of that and the way we played. I really am. We didn’t get the result we wanted but I feel like we can improve and get better and start to take care of the business we need to get back there.
Q: How surreal was it going through that collapse during the game and how surreal watching it later?
Ryan: When you watch the coaches tape, it’s so quiet. It kind of takes the emotion away from it. You can watch it from a standpoint of, "What were we trying to do on this play? Did I execute what I was supposed to execute?"
From that standpoint, it is what it is. We’ve all had tough losses and those types of things. We’ve got to move on.
Q: Shanahan has become the scapegoat for so much of the loss because of his fourth-quarter play-calling (Note: Ryan rolled his eyes when reminded). What can you tell people about that?
Ryan: He did a great job. He did a great job for us last year. He put us in a lot of really good positions. That’s what happens. When you don’t get the results you want people are going to point fingers. But that’s not the case in our locker room or building. We’re all in this thing together.
Q: (Falcons head coach)Dan Quinn told me he spoke to Golden State’s Steve Kerr among others looking for ways to try and help Atlanta players move on from the Super Bowl loss. Who have you spoken to about it?
Ryan: I’ve talked to Dan about it. Obviously, Dan has been reaching out to a lot of different people. I’ve talked to our guys about it. There are great examples throughout sport of teams that lost in a championship game or whatever and how they then responded. You look at Clemson in college football last year. You look at North Carolina in college basketball. You look at what the Warriors are doing this year after last year.
You move on. Such is life, right? Things happen. You move forward and try to be better than you were before.
Q: Did you stamp a date and say, "Ok, I can move on from this"?
Ryan: (Laughs) No. Not yet. I couldn't pick a date. But I'm getting there. I think once you start to work toward what’s in front of you and you start to focus on the details of getting better, you stop thinking about the other stuff.
Q: You are set to play the Patriots during the 2017 season. Would you rather play them in Week 1to get it out of the way or later in the season?
Ryan: It’s like any schedule, right? We don’t have a choice. We'll play wherever (the NFL wants) us to go. It doesn’t matter. I think whenever we get to that week we’ll do the same thing we’ve done the past couple of years. That’s try to make it as normal as possible week to week. That (Super Bowl video) will be part of our breakdown for sure, but it’s only one part. We’re going to have a few different guys, too, and so will they.
I think the more you dwell on it and you think about it too much, the more it lingers. It is what it is. We’ll move forward and learn from it.
Q: You’re coming off an MVP season. How can Matt Ryan of 2017 be better than Matt Ryan of 2016?
Ryan: I thought I did some really good things. But like every week, you look at the film and say, "Alright, I could have done two or three things better."It’s trying to improve one percent every time you put your cleats on the field.
There are tons of things I can get better at. I feel I can get more accurate in certain situations. I can make better decisions. That’s stuff I’m going to work hard on whether it’s in the meeting room or practice field —specific little areas where I can get my footwork just a touch better in position to throw the ball or have better mechanics. Those are all things work on this time of year and I think they pay off during the season.
Q: Your personal quarterbacks coach Adam Dedeaux is here with you in South Florida for the second straight year. How is that helping you?
Ryan: I get a chance to work with him a number of times throughout the offseason. We talk all the time about finding specific little things each day to focus in on. Don’t worry about everything else —just try to get a little better at this thing this day. That narrow focus really helps me prepare and work on things that are actually going to help me improve.
Q: How confident are you in the “Brotherhood” and 2017 Falcons coming back?
Ryan: Very confident. I think this is the start of it. The more time we can spend together, the tighter we can get and the better we’ll be.
That showed how he played last year, how guys worked hard and played hard for each other. I think that will show again this year.
Alex Marvez can be heard from 7 p.m. ET to 11 p.m. ET Wednesday and Thursday on SiriusXM NFL Radio.