FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Matt Ryan is expanding his leadership role to include teaching young players and other newcomers in his seventh training camp with the Falcons.
Tight end Tony Gonzalez has retired, receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White missed most of the offseason work and Ryan is adjusting to two new starters on his offensive line.
Jones and White are back for training camp, but still Ryan is throwing to some new receivers, including Devin Hester, who was signed from the Bears. Ryan also is helping second-year tight end Levine Toilolo adjust to his new starting role.
Ryan has helped the newcomers learn the offense as the Falcons try to rebound from their first losing season with the quarterback.
“I think back to basics in teaching was huge this offseason,” Ryan said after Tuesday’s practice. “It was a lot of new guys in there and young guys in there and so it was back to basics. I think that’s been good for us. Work on our craft and make sure those guys understand what we are at our core.”
Coach Mike Smith said it is an ongoing evolution of Ryan’s leadership role that began in his 2008 rookie season.
“Matt has been a leader of our team really since day one,” Smith said. “He identifies things he feels will make us a better football team, and he believes and I believe he needs to have a voice in what we’re doing offensively. That voice is to make sure everybody is on the same page with what we’re trying to do.
“He’s done a very good job throughout the entire offseason working with the team.”
Ryan’s offense took a hit, at least for one day, when running back Steven Jackson was held out of Tuesday’s practice after suffering a right hamstring injury on Monday.
“We don’t think it’s going to be real significant,” Smith said. “He will be ready for the first game.”
Jackson missed four games with a left hamstring injury last season.
Jacquizz Rodgers worked at running back with the first-team offense.
Ryan said Toilolo has gained strength since his 2013 rookie season, but will need help following the retirement of Tony Gonzalez.
“I don’t think it’s one guy replacing what Tony did,” Ryan said. “Certainly he had a unique skill set really in the history of the NFL.
“I think we’ll have a combination of guys fill in for the skill set he had and certainly schematically you’ve got to change some of the things that you do because some of the things Tony was good at don’t necessarily fit in with some of the guys that we have.”
Smith said rookie first-round pick Jake Matthews “is still on a fast track” to be the starting right tackle.
“He’s got great balance and when he does get out of position he’s able to recover,” Smith said. “We’ve had two padded practices that were very good in terms of his pass protection and run blocking.”
Ryan said Matthews “has done it the way a rookie should do it” and has “kept his mouth shut.”
That changed when the rookie was asked to sing in front of the team on Monday night.
“He was pretty good,” Ryan said. “I was impressed. Probably the thing that impressed me the most in the first week is his ability to sing. He’s not scared to get up there and a little bit of his personality shone through.”