Sure, the dynamic Julio Jones always stands out, so that was a given. And, of course, Ryan recognized newcomer Mohamed Sanu, with Sanu signed to be the No. 2 guy behind Jones. But there was another player who impressed Ryan over the three-day span.
“Justin Hardy was one of the guys I was most impressed with down in Miami because he just looked so much more comfortable with all things,” Ryan said of the second-year receiver. “Whether it be the offense going out there and working -- just all the things that come along with it -- he looked comfortable around the guys in knowing what he was supposed to be doing. He looked comfortable with himself; comfortable with his ability. I thought he was in a great shape and had a really good three days down there.”
In other words, Hardy won't be a forgotten man this coming season.
“Absolutely not,” Ryan said. “Listen, in this league, you need multiple guys to be able to attack a defense the way that you want to. And I thought Justin did a great job for us when he got his opportunity last year. I thought he improved every week. He was playing much better at the end of the season than he was when he first got his opportunity.”
It took Hardy a while to receive that opportunity. A fourth-round draft pick out of East Carolina, he was inactive for the first seven games of his rookie season. He ended the season with 21 receptions for 194 yards and 12 first downs on 32 targets. Hardy had two drops.
Going into his second year, the mild-mannered Hardy simply wants to grow. He firmly believes the passing camp in South Florida was a solid step in his maturation process.
“It was definitely good just to get back in the rhythm of things,” Hardy said. “Just getting back there and catching from Matt and the other guys, just being around my teammates again, it was great. Basically, we did the whole route tree. We were able to get back into the timing of things. We were just making sure all of our routes are precise and worked on any new routes that we plan on running.”
Hardy doesn't believe the addition of Sanu will negatively impact him. In fact, the two already have a strong tie. Hardy worked out in New Jersey with Sanu before the draft. They ran routes together at Rutgers, were Sanu attended college.
“I trained with him couple times,” Hardy said. “It was just cool to get back around him. He's a great guy who I feel will help this team a lot. He knew who I was coming out of college and that I could catch the ball. He told me before the draft, 'Just go out there and show everybody what you can do.'"
Said Sanu of Hardy: "That's my man.”
The Falcons will need every contribution they can get from Sanu and Hardy as they attempt to alleviate some of the pressure from Jones. The goal is to have receivers capable of consistently beating one-on-one coverage because Jones draws added defensive attention. Hardy's precise route-running helped him establish some separation from defenders.
Hardy intends to win the majority of his battles going into the 2016 season. And he'll put in the work to make sure that happens.
“Not just one thing; it's working on my whole game,” he said. “It's just getting a chance to showcase what I can do. Coming in last year and not playing the first [seven] games, then coming in at the end and showing spurts ... I just want to be that total guy now and show everybody that I can do this.”