Cover 9@9: Smith stressing accountability in Falcons’ virtual meetings

New Falcons head coach Arthur Smith (left) has the rookies off and running during rookie minicamp on Friday, May 14, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
New Falcons head coach Arthur Smith (left) has the rookies off and running during rookie minicamp on Friday, May 14, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

“You get on the meetings, the Zoom calls, and he’s asking everybody questions,” Ryan said. “Firing off questions. Making sure that guys are on top of what’s being installed.”

All of the NFL teams learned some lessons from last season’s fully virtual offseason. They know how to teach and cross check the information that’s being taught.

“If they are not, making sure that they know our job as professionals is to find a way to learn this information and make sure that we know it,” Ryan said. “I think guys have responded well to that. I certainly think he’s made that felt from the beginning.”

2. Scheme alert: Ryan is learning with his fifth offensive coordinator if you count Dirk Kotter I and Dirk Koetter II.

His learning curve is not real high.

“From a language standpoint, I’ve played in a number of different systems now,” Ryan said. “It’s like a combination of a couple of them. I’ll go back and the formations are really similar to West Coast formations, which I’ve played in for in number of years. The protections are very similar. The concepts are similar as well.”

The terminology is what’s most different for Ryan.

“It’s just different names to makes sure that I have the right word association and you’re speaking the right language,” Ryan said. “The biggest difference comes from getting the flavor for how the coaching staff is going to game plan. What the week is going to look like? How are they going to call plays? Trying to get on the same page as fast as you can is probably the most important part.”

3. Rushing attack: Ryan has been sacked 131 times over the past three seasons – 42, 48 and 41 times.

The Falcons attempted 626 passes and had 409 rushing attempts in 2020. Quick math: 217 more pass attempts than rush attempts.

Ryan believes they can balance out the offense under Smith.

“One of the organizations that was extremely balanced was Tennessee,” Ryan said. “We’ve got a head coach that is coming in from that system. Obviously, they had a different skill-set of players there. Different guys.”

The major difference was they had Derrick Henry.

“I don’t know what it will look like,” Ryan said. “My job is to try and operate whatever play is called. If it’s 200 more passes than it is runs, we have to find a way to make it work.”

Ryan hopes to have a diversified attack.

“I think most of the time, teams are at their best when they make defenses defend everything: run, pass, play-action-pass, on the move, just a ton of different things to attack are tough to handle,” Ryan said. “We’ll see how we shake out, every year is different. We don’t know how injuries are going to go. You don’t know how the season is going to go. You have to try and find a way to get it done.”

4. Ryan on his senior status: Ryan, a four-time Pro Bowler and the league’s most valuable player in 2016, is now one of the older players in the league at 36.

“I think, you realize how hard it is at this age,” Ryan said. “You appreciate the success probably more now. I’ve never really been motivated. ... I wanted to win, but I really hated losing more than I loved winning. It would eat at you more.”

Ryan look at it like he’s in the second-half of his career.

“I think that only intensifies the older that you get because you realize that your opportunities are limited,” Ryan said. “I probably appreciate the opportunities more now because I’m not in the first quarter or first half of my career. It makes every chance you get all the more fun.”

5. Ryan not messy: Ryan was asked to comment about quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers and their bumpy relationships with their teams.

“Everybody situation is different,” Ryan said. “I think there has been a shift for sure during my time in the NFL where guys have become more vocal about certain situations.

“I think that’s a good thing from a player’s standpoint. You want some of that. You want your voice to be heard. I feel like within our organization and within the building that I’ve been in, I’ve been in a real fortunate spot where my voice has been heard. I’ve always felt that way and have always felt appreciated.”

Wilson’s situation seems to have calmed down and we’ll have to see if they’re going to “Let Russ Cook.” While there appears to be a standoff in Green Bay between Rodgers and general manager Brian Gutekunst.

“So, I can’t speak for other peoples (Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers were examples) situations,” Ryan said. “I just feel fortunate that mine’s has been as solid as has been for the better part of 14 years.”

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan comments on steps Kyle Pitts would need to develop into prototypical Hall of Fame tight end.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

6. Ryan’s window to win the Super Bowl: Ryan clearly plans to play into his 40s.

“Well, it’s not that limited,” Ryan said when asked about his window. “I feel pretty good. I’ve got a guy (Tom Brady) in the division, who ... he’s a little longer in the tooth that I am. I still feel pretty good.”

Ryan, who watched Drew Brees retire at 40 this offseason, turned 36 on Tuesday.

“I just understand it’s not the first half,” Ryan said. “We’re probably in the second half a little bit more. To answer your question, I feel like we’re in a good place.”

The Falcons, after going 4-12, are not considered Super Bowl contenders.

“We’ve got to improve,” Ryan said. “We have to get better. There is no question about that. But I feel like we’ve got really good people in leadership positions with the mindset and a clear vision for what they want to do.”

The new players will determine if the Falcons and make a push back to respectability and then perhaps the playoffs.

“So, it’s our responsibility as players to find a way to be a part of that,” Ryan said. “That’s what I’m going to try and continue to do as I move forward. I feel like I’m in a good place.”

7. Drafting a quarterback: The new regime elected not to draft a quarterback this year. They took tight end Kyle Pitts and passed on former Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Alabama’s Mac Jones.

Ryan’s not sure if he would have been fine mentoring a quarterback of the future.

“I don’t know,” Ryan said. “It didn’t happen. So, I can’t really answer it honestly. But I understand that’s a part of this business. It’s not easy. It gets magnified at the quarterback position because everything does.”

Ryan knows that’s the nature NFL business is to try to fine better, younger and thusly cheaper talent.

“This happens to guys every year, every week in our league,” Ryan said. “People are brought in to try and replace you that are cheaper that are younger and it’s your responsibility as a player to not make that happen.”

The Lions called the Falcons because they wanted Oregon tackle Penei Sewell. If the Falcons would have traded back to seven, they would have missed on Pitts, who likely would have gone to Miami at 6.

Fields, who played at Harrison and started his college career at Georgia, ended up going to Chicago with the 11th overall pick. Jones went 15th to the Patriots.

“I don’t know what I would have done,” Ryan said. “Maybe that will happen at some point in the future, but it hasn’t happened yet.”

8. Ryan thought about transitioning: Since being drafted in 2008, Ryan set for his third head coach and second general manager.

Ryan said he was prepared if the new regime wanted to move on.

“I think you never know when there is transition what is going to happen,” Ryan said. “You have to go prove it with the way you work, prove it on the field, earn their respect. I’m still for sure in the process of doing that. I’m in a fortunate position where they’ve got a body of work to look at.”

Ryan still believes he has to prove himself to the new regime.

“I still have to do that every day,” Ryan said. “You are constantly having that talk with yourself whether if it’s year one or year 14, whatever year it is, you’re constantly trying to prove that you’re the right person for this spot.”

Ryan rolled out the renting lockers story, too.

“I was told at a young age from some veteran players in that locker room, you don’t own the locker,” Ryan said. “You rent it and so I try and pay my rent on time all the time and do the best that I can do to stay in that spot.”

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith (center) addresses the offense and defense for instruction during rookie minicamp on Friday, May 14, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Falcons head coach Arthur Smith (center) addresses the offense and defense for instruction during rookie minicamp on Friday, May 14, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

9. Depth chart: Nose tackles Eli Ankou and Olive Sagapolu were signed Monday by the Falcons.

Ankou, 26, is 6-foot-3 and 325 pounds. He has played in 27 NFL games with Jacksonville, Cleveland and Dallas. He went undrafted in 2017 out of UCLA.

Sagapolu, 24, is 6-2 and 331 pounds. He spent the last two seasons with Green Bay and Detroit, but has yet to play in an NFL game. He played college football at Wisconsin.

The team released defensive lineman Eli Howard (Texas Tech) — one of about 20 undrafted free agents the team added following the NFL draft.

Tight end Parker Hesse and guard Sam Jones signed with the Falcons on Thursday.

Hesse, who played at Iowa, was on Tennessee’s practice squad the past two seasons. He played defensive end in college. He’s 6-3 and 261 pounds. He moved to tight end while with the Titans.

Jones, who was drafted by Denver in the sixth round (183rd overall) of the 2018 draft out of Arizona State, is 6-5 and 305 pounds. He played in five games with the Broncos in 2018. He since spent time with the Cardinals and Colts.

Here’s the depth chart heading into phase two of the offseason program:

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 13 Christian Blake, 86 Antonio Nunn

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 Jake Batho, 75 Kion Smith

LG 77 Jalen Mayfield, 66 Willie Wright, 64 Ryan Neuzil

C 61 Matt Hennessy, 68 Josh Andrews, 67 Drew Dalman

RG 63 Chris Lindstrom, 62 Bryce Hargrove, 65 Joe Sculthorpe, 71 Sam Jones

RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 73 Matt Gono, 72 Willie Beavers

TE 81 Hayden Hurst, 8 Kyle Pitts, 85 Lee Smith, 87 Jaeden Graham, 46 Parker Hesse, 80 Ryan Becker, 89 John Raine

WR 83 Russell Gage, 16 Greg Dortch, 82 Austin Trammel

WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 88 Frank Darby

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 5 AJ McCarron, 15 Feleipe Franks

HB 28 Mike Davis, 84 Cordarrelle Patterson, 30 Qadree Ollison, 36 Tony Brooks-James, 25 Javian Hawkins, 42 Caleb Huntley

FB 40 Keith Smith

DEFENSE

DL 55 Steven Means, 95 Ta’Quon Graham, 79 Chris Slayton

DL 97 Grady Jarrett, 90 Marlon Davidson, 94 Deadrin Senat, 93 Zac Dawe, 98 Eli Ankou

DL 96 Tyeler Davison, 99 Jonathan Bullard, 50 John Cominsky, 69 Olive Sagapolu

OLB 56 Dante Fowler, 92 Adetokunbo Ogundeji, 59 Alani Pututau

ILB 45 Deion Jones, 51 Brandon Copeland 53 Erroll Thompson

ILB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 43 Mykal Walker, 48 Dorian Etheridge

OLB 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, 52 Barkevious Mingo, 49 Kobe Jones

RCB 20 Kendall Sheffield, 22 Fabian Moreau, 29 Chris Williamson

LCB 24 A.J. Terrell, 33 Tyler Hall, 34 Darren Hall, 38 Marcus Murphy, 41 J.R. Pace

NCB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 25 Delrick Abrams, 35 Avery Williams

FS 23 Erik Harris, 27 Richie Grant, 39 T.J. Green, 37 Dwayne Johnson

SS 32 Jaylinn Hawkins

SPECIALISTS

K 7 Younghoe Koo

P 4 Sterling Hofrichter, 9 Dom Maggio

LS 47 Josh Harris

KO 7 Younghoe Koo

KR 84 Cordarrelle Patterson, 14 Chris Rowland, 35 Avery Williams

PR 14 Chris Rowland, 35 Avery Williams

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