Matt Ryan helping to get Hurst, Gurley up to speed

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NFL's elder statesmen quarterbacks (and the year they entered the league)

During the coronavirus pandemic that drastically altered the Falcons’ offseason program, quarterback Matt Ryan has managed to get in some workouts with all of the key members of the offense.

New tight end Hayden Hurst and running back Todd Gurley were the key additions. Hurst was driving back and forth from Jacksonville to Atlanta to work out – following all social-distancing rules – with Ryan.

A few weeks ago, Ryan had some workouts with Gurley in California.

Hurst and Gurley, who passed his medical examination the team confirmed Tuesday, are being counted on to replace Pro Bowl players Austin Hooper and Devonta Freeman.

“I’m excited about both of them,” Ryan said on a video conference call with the Atlanta media. “I really am.”

Ryan worked out more with Hurst, a former first-round pick who was acquired in a trade with the Ravens on March 16. The Falcons also received the Ravens’ fourth-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft, but gave up second-round and fifth-round picks in this year’s draft to get Hurst.

“I’ve been incredibly impressed with Hayden’s work ethic,” Ryan said. “He’s got great speed. Great athleticism. Wants to be a great player. The effort, attitude, all of that stuff is there. The athleticism is there.”

Ryan believes that Hurst is fitting into the group well.

“He’s gotten to know some of the teammates in the times that we’ve spent together which I think is a good thing,” Ryan said.

Gurley, 25, signed after he was released by the Rams.

“I spent some time with him out in California, and I was able to spend a couple of weeks getting to know him a little better and getting a feel for him as an athlete,” Ryan said. “He’s extremely versatile out of the backfield.”

Ryan reports that Gurley and his left knee, looked fine.

“He looked great, healthy and ready to go,” Ryan said. “I was impressed with that. The thing that struck me the most though was how smart of a player that he is and his ability to retain information, to not have to circle back on things the next day.”

Ryan spent some time teaching Gurley some of the nuances of the offense.

“If I told him once how we were trying to work something or a route concept, or what we were expecting of him, he doesn’t forget it,” Ryan said. “He was back the next day doing it the right way.”

When the Falcons do get on the field, Ryan believes Hurst and Gurley will be ready.

“I’ve been impressed with both of those guys,” Ryan said. “I think they’ll fit in very well. I’m excited about when we really have the opportunity to get together in training camp of getting productive time spent on the field.”

Ryan has been running offseason workouts since the 2011 lockout season. In the past, a group of players have traveled to Florida for workouts. But with the players initially banned from traveling this year and forced to workout on their own, Ryan had to piece together several different workouts.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of our guys,” Ryan said. “Specifically, individually early on in terms of practicing social distancing, making sure that groups … were not too big and we were doing things the right way.”

Ryan liked the intimacy of the workouts.

“In certain ways, I think maybe we are ahead of where we would be because sometimes when you are in the normal structure of an offseason there are time constraints and you’re hustling to make sure that you’re getting as much work as you can with different parts of the team,” Ryan said. “There are positives to having it gone this way.”

Ryan said most of the players are in really good shape.

“The one area where we are behind is probably in terms of on-the-field work in terms of our units together,” Ryan said. “That part is going to be the same for everybody. We might be behind where we are at in terms of where we were last year. … Everybody is going through this the same way.”

Ryan had some other updates:

On wide receiver Calvin Ridley: "Ridley has been working extremely hard," Ryan said. "He looks great. He's been putting in a ton of extra time throughout this offseason. We've spent a ton of time together."

On wide receiver Russell Gage: "Gage has been amazing," Ryan said. "He's a guy that I think feels a lot more comfortable after having played the second half of last season. I feel like he's in a spot where he knows his role and how we are going to use him. He's in a good space mentally to be productive in that spot."

On tight end Jaeden Graham: "Graham is another guy that every time that I've called, he's been there," Ryan said.

On wide receiver Julio Jones: "Then I've gotten to spend a lot of time with Julio and get in some work with him," Ryan said. "He's been awesome. He looks to be in great shape, and he's moving around great."

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