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Posted: Wednesday, June 10th 2009 at 2:28pm

New expectations follow Ryan, Falcons in second season

By Jeff Hart Staff
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Matt Ryan helped lead the Atlanta Falcons to an 11-6 record and a playoff berth last year as a rookie.
FLOWERY BRANCH – A year ago Atlanta Falcons fans were trying to figure out just what the Falcons had in their newest rookie quarterback Matt Ryan. Coming into the 2008 draft, the 6-foot-4, 220 pound signal-caller from Boston College was considered a project in the making with little chance to improve the fortunes of a franchise reeling from the Michael Vick fallout.

But as the Falcons continue to hold Organized Team Activities (OTA) this summer, fans are now wondering what Ryan will do for an encore after leading Atlanta to 11 wins and a playoff berth while passing for 3,440 yards and 16 touchdowns as a rookie.

Falcons coach Mike Smith, however, said watching Ryan prepare for his sophomore season atop the depth chart gives him a good feeling.

“I think you can already see that his baseline knowledge of the offense is better and he is playing with more confidence already than he did this time last year,” Smith said. “He had a great start (to his career) and now what we want is for him to keep moving forward. Its cliché, I know, but the saying is that you’re never standing still: you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. We hope he continues to get better.”

After Wednesday’s two-hour practice in a stifling heat at the Falcons complex, Ryan looked more comfortable behind center directing wayward receivers to their correct spots despite missing several open receivers. He said he has noticed a change in himself and in the team’s outlook coming into the 2009 season.

“Our expectations are a lot different this year,” he said. “My expectations of myself are higher also. I think I still need to work on my decision-making and try to cut down on the mistakes. But I also think I am being smarter with my reps in practice and trying to understand more things.”

Ryan acknowledged that he had little idea of what was ultimately in store for him as he began his career last year. He said he just tried to take things in stride and treat everything as a learning opportunity. This year, he said he is focusing on how to get himself and the Falcons to take the next step.

“Knowing what to expect as I got here (for OTA’s) this year made it easier to get ready and we have talked about moving forward as a team,” he said. “I think we’re all excited because we feel we’re further along at this point than we were last year.”

When asked about whether Ryan was ready to take on more leadership responsibilities, Smith said he thinks Ryan is heading in the right direction with his teammates.

“You don’t anoint anyone as a leader, it’s earned and comes with success,” he said. “You can see some signs that Matt is becoming more of a leader. His has a great approach to practice and working hard and there is an air of confidence that you have to have and he is getting there. We feel very good about having him here and we think he could be a very special player if he continues to improve.”
Associated Categories: Sports News, Professional Sports

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