Ryan continues to emphasize how much more comfortable he feels in Year 2 of Shanahan’s scheme. The Falcons aided his cause by adding a three-time Pro Bowl center in Alex Mack, complementary receivers to Jones in Mohamed Sanu and rookie tight end Austin Hooper, and a new voice to bounce ideas off of in veteran quarterback Matt Schaub. None of those enhancements will matter if Ryan and Shanahan don’t remain on the same page.
Much has been made about the rollouts and bootlegs expected of Ryan in Shanahan’s offense. The general consensus is such plays neglect Ryan’s primary strength as an accurate pocket passer.
“When you look at our outside-the-pocket stuff last year, we were really, really efficient,” Ryan said. “I know that was a question I had to answer a lot about, ‘Do you like this? Do you not like this?’ It helped us. And at the end of the day, if it helps us, I love it. And it’s actually something I do pretty well. I throw it really well on the run.
“I’ve also learned a lot about myself too, as I’ve gotten older in my career, morphing some of the things that I like into his scheme. I thought Kyle did a great job of adjusting to that and taking some of what I did, taking some of what he did, and making it ‘our’ offense moving forward.”
Ryan took it upon himself this offseason to fine-tune aspects totally under his control, such as footwork and improving deep-ball accuracy. Both have been noticeable throughout training camp.
“Just the way he’s improved, his arm has gotten a lot stronger,” Jones said of Ryan. “He’s more aggressive now. Last year, I think he wasn’t as aggressive. But this year, he’s just so much more aggressive. Sometimes you’ve got to do that while making sure everybody’s on the same page with the communication.”
Now, Ryan has to elevate his play once the action goes live. The coaches want him to show the same composure through four quarters that he’s displayed in 27 career game-winning drives.
Reflecting on last season takes Ryan back to his 21 total turnovers, including four red-zone interceptions. He strongly denied suffering any type of injury that affected his accuracy. He freely admitted he simply made some poor decisions, ones he vows to correct. And he refused to call out his receivers although they contributed to the downfall by combining for 30 drops, second-most in the league.
“I think quarterback play comes down to third-down conversions and you’ve got to score points,” Ryan said. “You don’t want to turn the football over, but you have to play aggressive. … I think where we need to improve the most is the red zone. We have to be more efficient in the red zone. We have to score more touchdowns.”
Obviously Ryan’s ultimate goal is the Super Bowl. He’s talked to a number of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks about their process in winning a title, although Ryan wouldn’t reveal which ones he spoke to or the specifics of those conversations.
Winning a Super Bowl might not happen immediately, with the roster still going through a transformation, the defense still trying to find its footing, and Carolina still the team to catch in the NFC South. But those factors won’t deter Ryan’s aspirations.
He wants someday to reflect on highlights from a Super Bowl victory, not a near miss.
“I think [the Super Bowl] is the reason that you prepare and do all the things that you need to do in order to get ready to play,” Ryan said. “You want to pull your weight within the team, and you want to give your team an opportunity to win one. I think that’s everybody’s motivation.
“We’re not going after one team. We’re not trying to be [Carolina] or be better than them or any of that. We’ve been in that position, too, where we’ve won the division. It’s not about that. It’s being the best we can be. It’s controlling how hard we compete at this time of the year and making sure that, ‘Who cares about everybody else? Let’s make sure that we’re the best team we can be at the end of this training camp so we’re ready to compete for 16 weeks.'”
RIO DE JANEIRO — Everyone in American basketball circles understands that there will never, ever be another Dream Team.
That’s easy to accept.
Far less pleasant for the latest assemblage of Team USA hoopsters to stomach is the growing realization that even their dream scenario here at the Summer Olympics, which was presumed to be pretty attainable, continues to dribble out of reach.
Winning in style is no longer the target.
Winning, period, is the sole aim now.
USA Basketball’s Rio roster is unquestionably stronger than the one stocked with fill-ins that dominated the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, but opposition continuity is proving to be a stubborn and dangerous equalizer a mere two years later down here in South America. Although a clutch of perennial powers have all creakily descended from their respective peaks — namely Spain, Argentina and the hosts Brazil — no longer is Team USA expected to roll like so many know-it-alls worldwide presumed when we got here.
Not after three successive struggles for Mike Krzyzewski’s squad.
Not after three very jittery fourth quarters in a row against teams from Australia, Serbia and France that really look like t-e-a-m-s.