Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian looks on as Matt Ryan throws a pass during team practice Sunday, August 6, 2017, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Ryan on Sarkisian: ‘We’re a lot further along’

While the NFL MVP said he’s had a great relationship with Sarkisian from the start, the time the two have spent together has allowed them to learn how the other thinks.

“We’ve gotten a better feel for how he calls plays when we get into our team periods and we’re moving the ball, just playing football,” Ryan said. “I’ve got a better feel for his demeanor, how things come to him. So I’ve been very vocal about the things that I like. I think we’re further along than we were in the spring. But then again, with the games coming up, we still have a long way to go.”

While Ryan was tight-lipped on whether some of those things he shared with Sarkisian involved the no-huddle offense or more audibles, he was more clear about his admiration for Sarkisian’s football IQ.

Sarkisian’s only previous NFL experience came in 2004 when he was the quarterback coach in Oakland. The former BYU quarterback was later head coach at Washington (2009-2013) and Southern California (2014-2015).

“I think he’s really smart,” Ryan said. “That’s probably the thing that I’ve noticed on the field and in the classroom, is that he’s been around and coached in a lot of different places with a lot of different skill types and I think when coaches do that, they become very well-versed in a lot of different things.”

Sarkisian most recently served as Alabama’s offensive coordinator for the 2017 College Football Playoff Championship game in January.

Backup quarterback Matt Schaub immediately recognized how quickly the dialogue between the veteran quarterback and the new coach has developed.

“That’s where it starts in the offseason, just talking, watching film, discussing how we look at things, how he looks at things and form how we want to move forward and make things better, ” Schaub said. “… It’s such a huge part because once we get to the games and once we’re out on the field, it’s us players and you want to make sure everyone’s on the same page and thinking and talking the same language.

“Both those guys have open minds, communicate and are receptive to the good, bad and ugly.”

On Friday, coach Dan Quinn joined Sarkisian in the quarterback meeting room, which he does frequently during the week to go through game situations.

“I love the back-and-forth,” Quinn said. “Talking to Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub in that setting, that’s how quick they are. They’re on a coaching conversational level because of their knowledge, their experience. ‘I like this. We could also do this.’ So (Ryan’s) always challenging us with how else you can do it and I love that about him. Both (Ryan and Schaub), that part is as good as I could hope for.”

Since the main offensive weaponry from the Falcons’ Super Bowl run is back this season, an important key for Sarkisian’s has been listening to what worked well last season for the quarterbacks, while at the same time trying to kick it up a notch.

Sarkisian has already simplified some of the terminology.

“(Sarkisian) made it a little more friendly, verbiage-wise, to shorten things so we can get to the line and play faster, dictate to the defense,” Schaub said. “… He’s really dove headfirst into it and started fast with knowing what we’re doing.”

Under Shanahan last season, the Falcons led the NFL in points per game (33.8), ranked third in passing yards per game (295.3) and fifth in rushing yards per game (120.5).

Despite reaching the Super Bowl, there’s still much room for Sarkisian and the entire offense to improve, something Quinn said was challenging.

“How do you take something that’s really good and try to get it better?” Quinn said. “It’s the same exact challenge that we do the players that are playing and we go, ‘OK, now you go to here.’ It’s not like we just going to play that out, it’s not like we just going to playbook-up and dust it off and six months later, we’re ready to go again. We’re always about what could be better.”

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