Matt Ryan is making the best of a bad situation -- so much so that he now wonders if it's somehow better than what was supposed to take place initially. The Atlanta Falcons and the rest of the NFL were forced into a virtual offseason in April due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, but that doesn't mean players weren't conditioning physically. Ryan, who is no stranger to being banned from team facilities thanks to the 2011 lockout, is reaching back in time to help keep his team as sharp as possible ahead of training camp.
He's led the charge in organizing conditioning sessions () that are as productive as they are safe, although the latter has been an obvious challenge when considering football isn't inherently a coronavirus-friendly sport.
"I think at the beginning, for the first couple days, it was weird wearing masks on the field while I was throwing," Ryan said, via SI.com. "It was the first time I've thrown in a mask, that's for sure."
As for the former, once Ryan and those involved got past the initial awkwardness of donning a mask during a football workout, the former league MVP made it known the rest felt eerily similar to what he and his teammates at the time were forced to do in 2011.
"There are a lot of similarities," he said. "I think the No. 1 thing -- it's on the players. And it's on me to make sure I'm creating access for the guys to get the work done that they needed to get done. And that was the same in the lockout.
"We had groups of guys that got together in that lockout year. We were able to put on player-led practices."
The two situations aren't mirrored images though, considering social distancing guidelines in 2020.
"The difference this year, with COVID, is limits on the number of players that can get together, trying to practice social distancing, and making sure that everybody's staying safe," Ryan explained. "I think that part's been different. The groups of guys that have gotten together for us, as a team, have been smaller than they were that lockout year, but the work has been really effective."
One of the reasons Ryan feels that way is because in a traditional offseason setting, although players are able to tune their craft at team facilities, they're also held to the stringent rules of the collective bargaining agreement. The CBA guidelines are known to be rather stringent in what a team can and can not allow during spring and summer practices, and that also includes how long a practice can last.
In Ryan's player-only sessions, there are no CBA hoops to jump through.
"To be able to take our time, and work on the things we need to work on together, there's a lot of time in an offseason program where the amount of time you're allowed in the building and on the field is structured through the CBA," he said. "For us, getting together on our own, outside of that environment, allows us to work at the pace that we need to work at. And when you're working with younger guys, sometimes you have to go a little bit slower, be able to discuss things like that, and talk things through.
"That part of it has really been beneficial, and I think we're going to be better for it."