After Atlanta’s first day of training camp Thursday, head coach Mike Smith said that Ryan was definitely stronger, even though he didn’t look the part (via AtlantaFalcons.com):
I see it in Matt’s strength. I know some of you are saying, "He doesn’t look like he’s that much bigger," but when you’re slight like Matt is and have the body type that he does, you’re working in percentages. Matt’s done a good job with his body. He looks stronger throwing the football.
Ryan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in May that he had been working during the offseason with director of athletic performance Jeff Fish to become stronger in an effort be more effective late in the season:
[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.
Getting stronger will have a two-fold effect on Ryan. First—and Smith alluded to this—is arm strength. Smith said Ryan looks stronger throwing the ball. During minicamp several receivers mentioned that Ryan’s passes had more zip to them. The extra zip on Ryan’s passes could go a long way towards fixing a deficiency from last season.
Ryan ranked 29th in the league in accuracy on balls thrown 20 yards or more. He was 15-for-60 on deep attempts, and at one point during the season, wide receiver Roddy White suggested that the Falcons scrap the deep pass because it wasn’t working.
With new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter at the helm, the Falcons will likely throw the ball deep more in 2012. Ryan’s deep-ball completion percentage needs to improve. The added arm strength will help.
In addition to arm strength—and quite possibly more important as well—Ryan’s added strength from his offseason weight-room efforts will help the quarterback absorb contact.
While Ryan did a good job of avoiding sacks—only five NFL quarterbacks were sacked fewer than Ryan’s 26 times—he was hit frequently. According to numbers from the NFL, Ryan was hit 84 times in 2011, which placed him seventh on the list of the NFL’s most frequently hit quarterbacks.
Ryan’s new strength will help him continue to take those hits, especially if the Falcons cannot fix some of their issues on the offensive line. And if the offensive line does improve in 2012 under new line coach Pat Hill, then the Falcons have a stronger, much more durable passer who will definitely be more effective late in the season because his core is stronger.
Ryan doesn’t need to be bigger; but stronger, that’s another story. And any story that increases Atlanta’s chances of late-season and postseason success is more than welcome.