Falcons OC Kyle Shanahan talks QBs, from Matt Ryan to Johnny Manziel

Kyle Shanahan coached the league's leading passer back in 2009 in Houston's Matt Schaub. He coached a quarterback with one of the league's lowest passer ratings last season in Cleveland's Brian Hoyer.

In seven years as an NFL offensive coordinator, Shanahan coached two quarterbacks who have won the Heisman Trophy in Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel. He also coached a six-time Pro Bowler in Donovan McNabb.

Now in his first year as the Atlanta Falcons' offensive coordinator, Shanahan gets to work with a player in Matt Ryan who has four consecutive, 4,000-yard passing seasons to his credit.

Ryan continues to impress Shanahan on a daily basis.

"He has all those intangibles," Shanahan said of Ryan. "He's a big guy who is tall in the pocket. The protection doesn't need to be great and he still makes the play. He can make any throw.

"What I've noticed best about Matt is how good he is with his eyes. He manipulates the defense every play. I think I call a play against a coverage that a guy shouldn't be open on, but he is open because Matt looks people off and helps get people open. It makes it a lot easier to call plays."

Shanahan also pointed to Ryan's underrated athleticism.

"We're not going to run the zone read too much, but he's one of the more athletic quarterbacks I've had in terms of his quickness in the pocket and moving around," Shanahan said. "I don't know about his 40 or his making people miss but in the pocket, he's very athletic to me."

Having a quarterback the caliber of Ryan should help Shanahan implement his offense without issue. Not all such transitions have been seamless.

Shanahan spoke about the other quarterbacks he's designed his offense around previously, starting with his first stop:

Matt Schaub (Houston Texans): "Schaub was my first guy that I had. He was extremely accurate and very good at going through a progression. He didn't need very good protection. If you didn't block for him well, he still got rid of it. He was great at not taking sacks. He's a guy I felt comfortable to throw the ball with every time, and I think we led the league in passing and were toward the bottom in rushing. It was because with Schaub, you could do three-step drops and count on it as a pass play because he would get rid of it. I thought Schaub was a very good player at that."

Donovan McNabb (Washington Redskins): :Donovan had an extremely big arm. He could throw the ball down the field far. You had to protect more and make sure those edges weren't short, but there was no receiver who was too deep for him. He let it go, and that was fun to toy around with because he made some big plays."

Rex Grossman (Washington Redskins): "I loved Rex because he was so tough. Rex would hang in there, get the crap knocked out of him every week. He never flinched. He'd hang in there and take all the hits. He didn't mind the pressure on him. He'd let it sling every time. Sometimes, I'd have to tell Rex that he was letting it sling around a little too much and that you might have to take a sack here or throw it away. But the thing I loved about Rex is how much he competed. Every time that he was in the game, I felt like we had a chance. If he was going to throw three picks, I felt like there was a great chance he was going to come back and throw three touchdowns. He was a real fun guy to have."

Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins): "Robert as a rookie, he was the first time I had to deal with a guy from a different system. He played in a system, with the zone read, that was just different football than in the NFL. I knew he was going to be our guy, so I spent a lot of time really studying and trying to put together an offense that fit him but still fit into our system. That was really fun for me. It was tough at first because I was studying stuff that I wasn't always that into. We got like a 200-play cut-up of every zone-read clip that Cam Newton had, (Tim) Tebow had. We went back to a few that Vince Young had. Even a guy like Tyler Thigpen, who did a few in Kansas City. Then I tried to develop how we could do it. We did it all out of the pistol so we could run the rest of our offense. It was fun to put something together that made sense, but we weren't totally sure if it would work. Once we went through that season, it did work. It was a lot of fun. And we were No. 1 in the NFL in yards per play. We were able to be a top-five rushing team. We had a lot of explosive passes off the play-action. It was a very fun year, and Robert was very good at it. He was uniquely fast and had a big arm. He had world-class speed. The zone read was a track race to the sideline, so it made him special at it.''

Kirk Cousins (Washington Redskins): "Kirk's one of the sharper guys I've been around. He processes things so fast. He lets it rip. He's as tough as can be. Like what I said about Rex (Grossman), he'll hang in there and doesn't flinch. Kirk has a chance to be a great quarterback some day."

Brian Hoyer (Cleveland Browns): "Hoyer was very similar to Schaub. He was experienced; great touch and went through his progressions. He was new in the offense. I think if we would have stayed together longer, I think he could have gotten better at it. But Hoyer's a very solid quarterback who I think we'll have a good chance to play at Houston this year."

Johnny Manziel (Cleveland Browns): "Johnny was similar to Robert Griffin III -- different type of athlete, but in terms of where he came from. He came from a college that was very Oregon-like; not as much with zone read, but a lot of quarterback runs, spread-out system and not a lot of pocket play. We had to try and think of things that Johnny could do to make plays, but you've also got to teach him how to play quarterback. There's a fine line. But it was a challenge, just like Robert, just in terms of you've got to let those guys be them. They won Heismans being them. You don't want them coming to the NFL and you saying, 'Hey, you can't be you anymore.' So you've got to try and think of a system that allows them to be them, but still teaches them what they need to do to be successful. The difference with Johnny was, Johnny was quick. He didn't have the speed Robert (Griffin) had, but Johnny could break people off. And that's what his strongest asset was. I never had a guy who could make people miss like that. And the hardest thing, when you make people miss though, you get hit a lot because you're not going to the sideline. You're in between the tackles. That was the challenge with him. Johnny was going to be less designed runs but more scrambles."

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