INDIANAPOLIS — Yet another offseason of workouts with a new quarterback came and went for the Indianapolis Colts last week, this time with Matt Ryan under center.
This quarterback change — the fifth in as many years for the Colts — had a different feel than the one last season with Carson Wentz.
It was the same type of feeling they had in 2020, when they added veteran Philip Rivers — the type in which there weren’t as many questions at quarterback as they had in 2017 with Andrew Luck’s shoulder injury; in 2018, when Luck had thrown a football only a few times after missing the 2017 season; in 2019 with Luck’s calf injury; and in 2021 with Wentz as a whole.
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Ryan did nothing but turn heads and earn constant praise during the team’s workouts for nearly the past two months, including last week’s mandatory minicamp.
“Matt was unbelievable, did a great job, great command — really, AZ,” Colts coach Frank Ryan said. “He did everything right — just great leadership, great play. I mean the whole way he took command, great collaborating as an offensive staff with him to kind of work in and nuance some of the things we do to kind of suit him and his style.”
There were some questions about Ryan when the Colts acquired him from the Atlanta Falcons in March.
One of the biggest ones was how much arm strength the 37-year-old had left. It didn’t take long to realize he still has plenty of arm strength and accuracy, which was a weakness for Wentz. His ability to put perfect or near-perfect ball placement to his targets was a topic often talked about during workouts.
“With Matt, that ball is out,” tight end Mo Alie-Cox told reporters. “Like, you come out your break, you gotta be ready. ‘Cause it’s not this slow, turn your head. Like, turn your head [and] the ball’s going to be on you. But it’s always going to be on point.”
Ryan’s summary is loaded with plenty of individual career success: 59,735 pass yards, 367 touchdowns, four Pro Bowls and 2016 NFL MVP.
But joining a new team is foreign to Ryan after he spent the first 14 years of his career with the Falcons. So there was some adapting for the quarterback, as he had to get familiar with his new teammates and a coach in Reich who calls the plays and spent 13 years as an NFL quarterback.
For Reich, adjusting to a new quarterback is nothing new, because he has had a different Week 1 starter each season since he was hired by the Colts in 2018. Ryan had only three head coaches in his 14 seasons with the Falcons.
“I’ve really enjoyed spending time with [Reich] in the meeting room, getting a feel for his philosophy as a coach and the things that he believes in,” Ryan said. “Getting to know him as a person, you’re not going to find a better person than him. I really feel like we’ve made a lot of good strides in the last two months in terms of getting on the same page and communicating.
“I think we’ve done a good job of that, and we’re going to have to continue to push that envelope as we get to training camp. It’s different when you’re in-game and there’s wins and losses attached to it .It’s different…. I think we’re off to a really good start.”
The Colts upgraded their defense with the additions of defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and senior defensive assistant John Fox to the staff, along with cornerback Stephon Gilmore and pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue to go with holdovers Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner.
But no matter how you look at it, the key to the Colts’ success will hinge on how productive Ryan is at helping the Colts get back to the playoffs for just the third time since 2014 after coming up short in 2021.
And it’s not just about the stats either. That’s because Wentz was productive last season on paper, throwing 27 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. But he didn’t lead in the locker room, was too erratic at times throwing the ball and failed to come through late in the season when the Colts needed him to step up his play.
Ryan, in the eyes of those inside the organization, is an improvement in all those areas over Wentz.
Only time will tell if they are right.
In the meantime, though, Ryan will spend part of the next six weeks or so before training camp throwing to his pass-catchers in small groups to help get them up to full speed when the team gets back together in late July.
“You have to learn the offence. You have to know what you’re talking about. You have to be able to speak their language,” he said. “That’s the thing I said from the start is that you’ve got to help me here, too.”