After a physical season, Ryan hitting the weights hard

FLOWERY BRANCH — Going all the way back to Matt Ryan’s Pro Day at Boston College, there were questions about his arm strength.

On that brisk spring day in March 2008, he competed 48 of 52 passes. There were three drops. But his best throw may have been his 51st pass, an overthrown laser-shot on a deep post pattern. Those gathered on the Chestnut Hill, Mass., campus left that day knowing that while Ryan will never be accused of having a rocket launcher for an arm, he had more than enough arm strength to be successful in the NFL.

Four years and 43 regular-season victories later, there are still some naysayers, in part because Ryan has gone 0-3 in the playoffs. But with the Falcons moving to a vertical passing attack under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, Ryan is taking steps to make sure he can sling it down the field with regularity.

“Every year, I try and pick a couple of things that I’d like to do better,” Ryan said. “One of the things this year is getting in a little-bit better shape and better condition going into the season.”

Ryan passed for a franchise-record 4,177 yards last season and became the second Falcons quarterback to pass for more than 4,000 yards in a season. Jeff George passed for 4,143 yards in 1995. Ryan also had a franchise-best six games of 300 yards or more passing last season.

Yet, his critics point to his low yards-gained-per-pass attempt numbers. After he finished fourth in the NFL as a rookie with 7.9 yards gained per pass attempt, his numbers dipped to 6.4 (21st), 6.5 (26th) and bounced back some last season 7.4 (14th).

After his rookie season, Ryan was tied with Carolina’s Jake Delhomme and trailed only San Diego’s Philip Rivers (8.8), New Orleans’ Drew Brees (8.0) and Houston’s Matt Schaub (8.0).

Last season, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers led the league with 9.2 yards gained per pass attempt.

With the mega-deal for wide receiver Julio Jones and the re-signing of Harry Douglas to go along with Pro Bowler Roddy White, the Falcons believe they potent three-receiver attack. That’s before you throw future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez into the passing-game mix.

Ryan wants to make sure he’s ready to flourish in the new attack and is stronger down the stretch of the season.

“I’ve been working hard on that and getting with [director of athletic performance] Jeff Fish now that we’re back to make sure that I’m ready to go,” Ryan said. “[I’m] ready to be strong in December and January. I want to be able to play my best football at that time. That’s one of the things I’ve tried to figure out and analyze myself; how do I get myself to be playing my very best, when your very best is needed. I’m still working on getting there.”

The Falcons would not make Fish available for an interview.

Ryan has guided the Falcons to the playoffs in three of his four seasons in the NFL, but they have been eliminated each time by the NFC’s eventual Super Bowl representative. Some people have pointed out that Peyton Manning opened his NFL career by losing his first three playoff games, before going 9-5 and taking the Colts to two Super Bowls.

After the Falcons lost 24-2 to the New York Giants, Ryan relaxed awhile before reflecting on last season. Once his thoughts were gathered and he had a clear vision, he decided to go see Fish. They crafted a plan to add muscle to Ryan’s sinewy 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame.

“I went in and talked to him about some of the goals that I have, which will remain private, and some of the things I felt good about during the season,” Ryan said. “There were some things that I felt like need to be better during the season. I was really open and candid with him and he was really open and candid with me about what we need to do to improve in those areas.”

This offseason, Ryan, a known film-room rat, is turning into a weight-room mainstay. The team’s structured offseason weight training program started April 23.

“I think we’re off to a good start,” Ryan said. “It’s weight training, getting in there and training with weights. It’s learning to condition myself in the way that we play football and in a way that is productive to how we are playing football.”

Last season also was Ryan’s most physical campaign. He was sacked 26 times and hit on 84 other plays, the seventh-most hits in the league. Therefore, it’s understandable that he wanted to get stronger this offseason.

The hope is the increased focus on weight training will allow a more-buffed Ryan to stand firm in the pocket.

“It’s making a bigger commitment to it and taking care of your body in a better way than I have in the past,” Ryan said. “That is something that is important to me.”

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