Teammate Julio Jones was the first to say Ryan's arm is much stronger than it was last year, and Ryan would be the first to agree. After eight NFL seasons, the 31-year-old Ryan decided to step out of his normal offseason routine, in part, to enhance his ability to throw deep.
Ryan visited Tom House and Adam Dedeaux of the acclaimed 3DQB training facility in Los Angeles after hearing recommendations. House, a former major league pitcher and pitching coach, and Dedeaux, a former pitcher at USC, developed a program aimed to improve the overall throwing performance of quarterbacks by focusing on four key areas: functional strength and conditioning, mechanics and motion analysis, mental and emotional management, and nutrition. They've worked with Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Carson Palmer, to name a few.
Ryan spent six weeks training with Dedeaux and House. The sessions, spread over a sixth-month period on the West Coast and in Atlanta, were four to five days a week for three to four hours a day.
"You're always trying to find ways to get better, and I feel like that was an avenue for me to get better," Ryan said. "It was different-style training -- some shoulder work, some core work. And I feel really good. The ball feels really good. It's coming off well."
Ryan, known more for his accuracy than his arm strength, wouldn't reveal exactly how many more yards he can throw a ball now as opposed to prior to the training. However, he firmly believes there's a noticeable difference in his deep ball, and not just because he's stronger.
"I think it's a combination of things," Ryan said. "I think it's getting your feet right, working on positioning of where your feet want to be. How I've trained this offseason, I've worked really hard on it. I don't know about [distance], but it just feels good coming off, and certainly putting it in good spots for our guys."
Dedeaux said that on average the NFL quarterbacks who come through 3DQB add about seven to 10 more yards on their deep throws, with the highest increase being 13 yards. Dedeaux would not divulge the details of Ryan's improvement, but he spoke highly of the Falcons signal-caller's work ethic.
"Matt was a true professional, and he took this on with full head of steam," Dedeaux said. "He's such a tireless worker who pays attention to details. That's why he was able to make great strides."
An example of the exercises Ryan went through included measuring velocity and distance based on body positioning, such as being able to throw 80 percent of his max distance while on his knees. There was a rapid-fire swinging bat exercise which focuses on velocity and rotational strength. The shoulder work included light dumbbells and weighted balls.
There was more to it than Ryan physically exerting himself. The mental/emotional exercises involved profile testing to determine how an NFL quarterback such as Ryan measures himself to others at his position, how he handles failures, and the adjectives he would use to describe himself. The dissection of the diet entailed at least a week-long change in meals and supplements to get a better feel for body chemistry and muscle growth.
"It's just a completely different way that I hadn't done before," Ryan said. "I felt like the work really helped out. My body feels really good. And I'm certainly throwing the ball really well."
Ryan's deep throws have looked better in practice. He also launched a couple of long balls in last week's preseason loss to the Miami Dolphins, including one to Jones that resulted in a pass interference penalty.
Jones has noticed the difference.
"Just the way he's improved, his arm gotten a lot stronger," Jones said. "And he's more aggressive now. Last year, I think, he wasn't as aggressive. But this year, he's just so much more aggressive."
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ryan had a higher percentage of underthrows on attempts of 20-plus yards down the field the last two seasons than he did between 2011-13 -- probably expected with age and the physical toll of being hit. But even the slightest improvement could help, especially considering how much Ryan, Jones, and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan have talked about taking more deep shots this coming season. The addition of three-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack should give Ryan a cleaner pocket to attempt such deep throws.
If Ryan can just clean up the red-zone interceptions and turnovers, maybe the Falcons will be able to go a little deeper instead of missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.