Atlanta QB Matt Ryan will be handing the ball off to a new running back this year in Stephen Jackson, left, and receiving the ball from a new center after veteran Falcon Todd McClure retired at the end of last season.
FLOWERY BRANCH — For the first time in his pro career, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has a new center.
Todd McClure retired after more than a decade with the Falcons, leaving a significant hole in the offensive line.
Ryan spoke highly of the job second-year lineman Peter Konz has done filling the void after Tuesday’s OTA.
“We got a lot of work together last year,” Ryan said. “Maybe not so much in terms of game time, but on the practice field, we had a lot of time together and he’s a mature guy.
“For a young player, he takes it really seriously, he’s a really hard worker and he’s extremely smart. Those are all qualities that you really want from your center.”
Konz was Atlanta’s second-round pick out of Wisconsin in 2012. He played in 16 games and started in 10 at right guard last season, but now moves back to his natural position.
It’s not the only change on the offensive line and Ryan also praised the work the unit as a whole was doing during these well-attended voluntary workouts at the team’s facility in Flowery Branch.
“Offensive line is one of those things where it’s not about how they play individually,” said Ryan, who passed for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns last season. “It’s about how they play collectively. Our guys, in the past and some of the guys that aren’t here anymore, did a great job of that.
“I think the guys we have right now are coming together. We’ve got some position battles that guys are competing at. It’s one of those things that keeps getting better as you keep practicing. I think we’ve made pretty good strides in the seven practices we’ve been out there.”
Ryan also has a big new weapon at his disposal this season in running back Steven Jackson, who signed to a three-year, $12 million deal this spring.
“Some of the new guys that are here add to those energy levels,” Ryan said. “Stephen Jackson is a guy I think has come in and he’s a leader. He’s fun to play with and fun to work with. He’s a guy that really cares.”
Jackson, one of the league’s best pass-catching backs, is still adjusting to a new system after playing the nine seasons in St. Louis.
“We are, for the most part, an offense that has been together for a while,” Ryan said. “We do a lot of different things. We expect to play fast when we’re out on the field.
“When he knows what he’s doing, he’s a really, really good player. He’s really smart, too. He’s picked up a lot of stuff really, really quick. He’s been dedicated. He’s one of the few guys who has called me when he’s not here and is picking my brain about certain things we’re doing. That says a lot about him.”
Ryan, inevitably since it was the first time he was made available to the media during OTAs, was asked about his contract negotiations. He, predictably, demurred.
“I leave that to my agents and the front office,” he said.
But he was fairly effusive when the subject of closing in on the franchise touchdown record held by Steve Bartkowski.
“Certainly it’s great to be in company with Bart,” Ryan said. “He is, obviously, an awesome player. He’s probably the premier quarterback to have ever played here in Atlanta. But he’s also a great guy. I’ve gotten to know him well, and he’s been very helpful for me in my career thus far. So it’s great to be mentioned in that same breath.
“But at the same time, it’s not something you worry about. For me, I’m constantly focused on trying to do my job the best I can. If you’re worrying about statistics and records and all those kinds of things, it takes away from being able to do the job the best you can.”